The strange case of a man called Lies

The strange case of a man called Lies is the perfect summer story for President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government. Too perfect, perhaps.

Lies (pronounced Lee-Ess) Hebbadj shot to prominence in April when his wife – or rather one of his four “wives” – was fined for driving a car through the city of Nantes while wearing a full-face veil or burka. Mr Hebbadj, 35, has since become the unwilling symbol – or justification – for President Sarkozy’s determination not only to ban the burka but to strip some foreign-born criminals of their French nationality.

Mr Hebbadj, who runs a chain of butcher’s and grocery shops near Nantes, was placed under judicial investigation last month for fraudulently claiming social security for four women and 15 children with whom he lives in a “compound” of three houses. Following a complaint by a former “wife”, he has now been placed under formal investigation for a much more serious accusation: “aggravated rape”.

Mr Hebbadj’s lawyer, Cécile de Oliveira, accused the government yesterday of “manipulating” old and invented accusations to make the Algerian-born businessman a symbol of its campaign to link immigration and crime. In a gaffe at the weekend, the interior minister, Brice Hortefeux, described Mr Hebbadj as a man who should be “presumed guilty”. What further proof was needed, Ms Oliiveira asked, that this was a politically motivated investigation?

Mr Hebbadj is described by his associates in Nantes as a “devout businessman”, who happens to live with one wife and three mistresses. (Efforts by the French authorities to accuse him of polygamy have come to nothing.)

According to the French security services, Mr Hebbadj has links with Tabligh, a radical, Pakisani-based Islamic movement. He has, security sources say, made frequent visits to Pakistan and Britain.

According to his local muslim critics, Mr Habbadj runs his own Islamic sect which is more interested in women and fast cars than in politics or religion. “He doesn’t have very developed views on Islam,” one local muslim leader said. “For him, religion is a costume that he puts on to seduce women.”

Mr Hebbadj’s former wife, Nina Gomez – a converted Muslim married and divorced under Islamic law – insists that his activities go much further. She has accused Mr Hebbadj on her blog of beating and raping her while pregnant. Ms Gomez also claims that he has tricked and coerced young women, including herself, into sexual slavery in Saudi Arabia.

Mr Hebbadj was arrested at the weekend and confronted with his former “wife”, who now lives outside France. After hearing both sides of the story, the public prosecutor decided that there was sufficient evidence to place Mr Hebbadj under formal investigation for “aggravated rape”.

His lawyer, Ms Oliveira, complained that the allegations were first investigated by police three years ago and allowed to drop. “Extraordinary police and judicial efforts” had been made, she said, to resurrect the kind of wife versus husband allegations which rarely led to a succesful prosecution.

Two of Mr Hebbadj’s “wives” also flew to his defence yesterday. Miriana Hebbadj – the only woman to whom is he is married under French law – said that her husband was being turned into a “monster”, a “political toy” and a “whipping boy”. In an interview with the Nantes regional newspaper, Presse-Océan, she said that Mr Hebbadj was, in fact, “a remarkable husband.”

“He is a happy, dynamic man," she said. "He is a gentle, caring, responsible father.”

She was interviewed with one of Mr Hebbadj’s religious wives – or, according to French law, live-in mistresses - Sandrine Mouleres, the woman convicted earlier this year of driving whilst wearing a full-length veil. Both women were pictured wearing niqabs, revealing only their eyes.

It was Mr Hebbadj who persuaded his wife to go to the press in April and use her traffic conviction to attack the French government’s plans to ban the burka or niqab. This is a decision that he may since have come to regret.

Ms Mouleres, who converted to Islam when she went through a religious marriage with Mr Hebbadj, said yesterday that she feared the government had brought pressure on the ex-wife, Nina Gomez. “It’s not impossible that...they encouraged her to make a formal complaint, something she had not done until now,” she said.

The interior minister, Brice Hortefeux, was challenged at a press coinference yesterday on his description of Mr Hebbadj as a man who should be “presumed guilty”. He refused to back down. He said that this was his personal opinion, not an official judgement. “When someone has twice been placed under investigation for serious offences, it is reasonable to pose certain questions,” he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own