A French court on Tuesday ordered a paternity test for a multimillionaire who former Justice Minister Rachida Dati claims fathered her nearly 4-year-old daughter. But the mystery of the glamorous politician's love life is likely to continue, for a while at least, because the alleged father is legally entitled to refuse.
The birth of the child while Dati was in office from 2007 to 2009 made headlines and set off guessing games about the father's identity, which the minister refused to divulge. It also fed the mystique cultivated by Dati, who is known for her taste for fine clothes, jewels and stiletto heels.
Last month, the 46-year-old Dati named Dominique Desseigne, a 68-year-old widower with two grown children, as the father of her child and took her case to a court in Versailles.
In a closed-door hearing, the court ordered Desseigne, who owns the famed Champs-Elysees establishment Fouquet's, to submit to a paternity test, a court official said. The official was not authorized to speak publicly about a non-public hearing and asked not to be identified.
Paternity tests are voluntary in France, meaning Desseigne, chief of the Lucien Barriere casino group, can refuse to take the test despite the court order. He has been quoted in the past as saying would do just that. But legal experts say that a judge might take such a refusal as an admission of paternity if there is corroborating evidence such as text messages, emails and photos proving a relationship.
The French press has avidly watched the case, just as it tracked Dati's every move when she served as a high-powered but controversial minister under then-President Nicolas Sarkozy. And photographers snapped her developing pregnancy. Daughter Zohra was born Jan. 2, 2009.
With her humble origins growing up in a housing project, one of 11 children of Algerian and Moroccan parents, Dati was the government's emblem of diversity, and, with her penchant for designer clothes, became the toast of Paris and foreign capitals. Today, she serves as a member of the European Parliament in the eastern French city of Strasbourg and keeps a link to the Paris power elite as the mayor of the capital's tony 7th district.
Were the court to determine that Desseigne is the father, the child's future would be comfortably assured with rights as an heir, and it would assure Dati access to child support.