French Muslim denies polygamy, admits to mistresses

A French Muslim threatened by the government with being stripped of his passport for practicing polygamy had publicly stated he has one wife and several mistresses. The case of Lies Hebbadj, an Algerian-born butcher who became a citizen when he married a French woman in 1999, has flared into a major political row with opposition parties accusing the government of exploiting the situation.

The story came to light on when Mr. Hebbadj’s wife, Anne, complained she had been fined for driving while wearing an Islamic veil, which police said was dangerous. The government, which days earlier announced it planned to ban the full veil from the streets of France, said Mr. Hebbadj appeared to have several wives and suggested that he lose his French nationality.

But Mr. Hebbadj denied having more than one wife, saying other women he has had children with were his lovers. “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, Mr. 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 Mr. Hebbadj is married to four women with 12 children and accuses them of fraudulently claiming single parent benefits. Frederic Lefebvre, a spokesman for the ruling UMP party, accused Mr. Hebbadj of being “someone whom we can well suspect of practicing polygamy, which is against the principles of our society, for financial aims.”