President Sarkozy's campaign against full Muslim veils took a comic turn yesterday when an Islamist butcher claimed that his niqab-wearing "wives" were no different from the mistresses that Frenchmen traditionally enjoy.

Lies Hebbadj, 35, was defending himself after the Government made him a national example last weekend by citing his supposed polygamy as the example of the un-French ways that the State wants to combat. He came to attention after a policeman in Nantes, his home city, fined his 31-year-old French-born wife €22 (£19) for driving while dressed in a head-to-toe niqab.

Brice Hortefeux, the rightwing Interior Minister, demanded that the Algerian-born Mr Hebbadj be stripped of his French nationality, acquired in 1999, because he allegedly had three other wives and used them all to defraud the welfare system.

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