A Muslim butcher who could be stripped of his French passport over allegations of polygamy hit back on Monday, insisting that he had not broken the law.
Lies Hebbadj, an Algerian-born 35-year-old, has been at the centre of a political storm since last week when his wife complained that she had been fined for driving while wearing her “niqab” full-face veil.
The woman has refused to pay the fine and Hebbadj has taken her defence.
Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux suggested the man could lose his French passport, saying he was believed to have four wives who had borne him 12 children and that each was receiving welfare benefits.
But Hebbadj called a news conference on Monday to contend that, while he has several mistresses, he had not engaged in polygamy, which is illegal in France.
“As far as I know, it is not forbidden to have mistresses in France, nor is it forbidden under Islam,” said Hebbadj, who runs a halal butcher shop in the western city of Nantes.
“If one can be stripped of one’s French nationality for having mistresses, then many French could lose theirs,” he said.
A person can see their French passport taken away if they acquired it through fraud — if, for instance, Hebbadj hid an existing marriage when he married Anne. Mistresses, however, are hardly unusual in France, where former President Francois Mitterrand maintained a hidden, second family for years.
The French government has said it has information that Hebbadj is married to four women with 12 children and accuses them of fraudulently claiming single parent benefits.
“If the French consider that fraudulent polygamy and benefit claims shouldn’t be allowed, then … we could well imagine a change to the law,” Immigration Minister Eric Besson told RTL radio Monday, suggesting a tightening of legislation.
Frederic Lefebvre, a spokesman for the ruling UMP party, accused Hebbadj of being “someone whom we can well suspect of practicing polygamy, which is against the principles of our society, for financial aims.”
• June 9, 2010: French Muslim ‘polygamist’ charged with welfare fraud