A French Muslim threatened by the government with being stripped of his passport for practicing polygamy said he had only 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 debate. 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.

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. “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, suggesting a tightening of legislation. Frederic Lefebvre, a spokesperson 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.”

The French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) condemned the information dispelled by Mr. Hebbadj who claimed that the tradition of Islam allowed mistresses. The CFCM spokesperson said, they were “Lies about the legality of mistresses in Islam” and “qualified these allegations as offensive and insulting for the Muslim religion.” The organization also reminded French Imams who grant religiously-understood marriage contracts that polygamy in France is illegal.

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