PARIS, FRANCE -- French writer Gabriel Matzneff said in an interview Wednesday that he "regrets" his trips to Asia to have sex with children, claiming that at the time "no one ever said it was a crime."

The veteran essayist is being investigated by French police after a leading French editor detailed how he abused her when she was 14 in an explosive new bestseller.

"A tourist should not behave like that," the 83-year-old told a French television channel in Italy, where he has fled to escape the storm the revelations stirred.

French publishing houses pulled his works from bookshops last month.

Matzneff had denounced the move as a "wave of neo-puritanism."

"I find it stupid, extravagant that in 2020 I am facing grief for books I wrote more than 40 years ago," he said.

But in the new interview with BFMTV, a rolling news channel, he was more contrite.

"An adult should turn their head away and resist the temptation. Naturally, if I did something that was not good I regret it.

"You are there a traveller, and young boys and girls were trying to pull you in the street and jump on you under the benevolent eye of the police."

"At the time," Matzneff added, "people talked of inciting a minor to debauchery, or indecent assault... But nobody ever spoke of crime."

Matzneff has never made any secret of his sexual preference for adolescent girls and boys and it did not stop him winning the Renaudot prize in 2013.

He also was awarded major state honours in France: Officer of Arts and Letters and Knight of the Order of National Merit.

The writer also benefited from a special pension and reduced rent for his apartment in a chic district of the French capital.

The case has shone a light on what many see as an overly permissive attitude towards sexual harassment and sexual abuse of children in France.


In "Les Moins de Seize Ans," ("The Under 16s"), first published in 1974 and reissued in 2005, Matzneff was frank about indulging his obsession for underage partners and sex tourism.

He told French television in the 1990s that "a very young girl is rather sweeter, even if she becomes very quickly hysterical and just as crazy as she will be when she is older."

But attitudes toward the writer changed dramatically after publisher Vanessa Springora revealed her tortured relationship him in her new book "Consent."

She described how Matzneff, then in his fifties, would wait for her outside school and then take her to a hotel for sex.

Matzneff denies any wrongdoing, insisting there was an "exceptional love" between him and Springora.

But during the interview with BFMTV, Matzneff insisted that "I never said anything nasty about her because she is a luminous person."

But he railed against the French government for threatening to take away his special pension.

"In a few weeks I feel I have been destroyed socially.... Now the state hammers in its nails so that I kill myself -- that is the trap.

"It's like the Soviet Union," said the writer, whose parents were White Russian refugees.