French prosecutor charges alleged polygamist with rape
French police brought rape charges Sunday against a Muslim man targeted by the government in an earlier case of alleged polygamy, a state prosecutor said.
Lies Hebbadj, 35, an Algerian-born shopkeeper from the western city of Nantes, "has been charged with aggravated rapes," public prosecutor Xavier Ronsin told a news conference.
Police had detained Hebbadj on Friday on the latest charges after a former partner accused him of rape and violence against her, and formally placed him under investigation for the alleged offences on Sunday.
Hebbadj came into the public eye in April when his wife publicly contested the police's decision to fine her for driving a car while wearing a face-covering Islamic veil.
That case came at a sensitive time as Nicolas Sarkozy's right-wing government prepared a law to ban the wearing of the full-face veil in public. The police claimed the veil dangerously obscured her view.
The government responded to the driver's complaint by going after Hebbadj, charging him with welfare fraud.
Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux also accused Hebbadj of polygamy, which is illegal in France, and threatened to strip him of his French passport.
On Sunday Hebbadj's lawyer Cecile de Oliveira rejected the charges of the alleged rapes between 2003 and 2007 as a sign of "manipulation" by the government.
"These are fantastical accusations, very old ones, of an intimate nature that is rather hard to verify," she told reporters.
"I think it is probably a case of manipulation," she added, citing a statement made by Hortefeux on RTL radio on Saturday that Hebbadj was "presumed guilty" of polygamy and welfare fraud.
Sarkozy and Hortefeux last week announced plans to make loss of nationality a fixed punishment for a range of serious crimes by foreign-born offenders, including attacking policemen. They did not list rape among the crimes.
Parliament is due to debate the veil ban in September. Hortefeux said on Saturday he would make formal proposals for stripping criminals of their nationality, part of a broad crime crackdown, by the end of this month.
© 2010 AFP