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Raffarin aide in prostitute arrest

Ambiel said prostitute jumped in his car while he was at traffic lights.

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PARIS, France -- The French government is facing fresh embarrassment after Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin's senior aide was caught with a 17-year-old prostitute.

Dominique Ambiel, Raffarin's chief communications adviser, resigned on Friday but protested his innocence over his arrest in Paris with the under-aged Romanian prostitute in his car.

The 49-year-old former teacher is due in court June 7 on charges of "soliciting, accepting or obtaining... sexual relations with a minor who is engaged in prostitution," court officials told Reuters. Under French law a minor is anyone under age 18.

Ambiel, who is also charged with insulting police, faces up to three years in jail and a 45,000 euro ($53,470) fine if convicted.

In an interview with Le Monde on Friday Ambiel accepted he had engaged in a "fairly sharp exchange" with officers but said the rest of the charges were "lies, defamation, a manipulation even."

"Out of respect for the prime minister I decided to bring forward my departure from his private office by a few weeks, in order to be able to express myself freely about any malicious allegations that could result from this incident."

According to police, Ambiel was stopped on Monday night with a teenaged Romanian prostitute in his car. She told officers he had paid her for sex on several occasions. That statement is still under investigation.

Ambiel told Le Monde he was driving to the prime minister's Matignon home when he witnessed a fight between two prostitutes. One of them jumped in his car while he was stationary at traffic lights, he said.

The incident follows several recent corruption scandals, culminating in January with the conviction of former Prime Minister Alain Juppe, who heads President Jacques Chirac's Union for a Popular Movement.

Juppe, 58, received an 18-month suspended jail sentence after he was found guilty of wrongdoing in a scam in which Paris City Hall funds were used to pay political party allies in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

And in February, a Paris court convicted and fined Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, the spokesman for Chirac's Union for a Popular Movement party, in a trial over secret financing for the now-defunct Republican Party in 1996.

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