Paris baguette winner in row over social media posts

Paris (AFP) –


The Tunisia-born baker who just won the coveted annual award for the best baguette in Paris has been caught up in a row over claims he shared extremist posts on social media.

Makram Akrout, whose achievement last month in beating off 173 rivals for the award was hailed as an immigrant success story in France, did not take part in a ceremony at the weekend to receive his prize.

By tradition, the winner of the prestigious award is given a contract to supply the presidential Elysee Palace with baguettes for a year, but this will now reportedly not be the case.

Screen grabs published by an anonymous Twitter user claimed to show that Akrout had shared, on a now-deleted Facebook account, posts expressing Islamist ideas and anti-French sentiments.

Akrout "understood that it was not necessarily ideal to come" and receive the prize, the first deputy mayor of Paris, Emmanuel Gregoire, told AFP during the ceremony Saturday on the esplanade of Notre-Dame Cathedral.

Mayor Anne Hidalgo, a Socialist who is running for president, had been scheduled to present the award but had a "personal scheduling conflict" and could not attend, Gregoire said.

Akrout was instead represented by his flour supplier, who evoked a "staffing problem" to explain the baker's absence.

The controversy has erupted as immigration is expected to be a major theme in France's 2022 presidential elections, where far-right leader Marine Le Pen is still seen as the top challenger to President Emmanuel Macron.

- 'Very good professional' -

Akrout, a 42-year-old who has worked for 19 years as a baker in France since arriving from Tunisia, has seen new customers flock to his Boulangers de Reuilly bakery since winning the award.

Bakers of Tunisian origin are widely present in the sector in Paris and have in the past also won the best Paris baguette award.

The Elysee had in a tweet last week congratulated Akrout, saying that "as tradition dictates, he will now provide bread for the Elysee Palace for a year".

But the Le Parisien daily reported that the Elysee would not be accepting his bread. An official told the paper "We have not got in touch with this gentleman... it is not automatic that the winner of the best baguette in Paris delivers to the Elysee."

The city hall has asked police to investigate his social media posts further.

Akrout's lawyer did not confirm or deny he had shared the posts.

"Like many Internet users, he in the past posted content on social media without grasping its significance," the lawyer, Sylvia Lasfargeas, told AFP.

She said her client had since been hit by a "surge of hate messages" on social media.

Akrout, who acquired French nationality in 2019, emphasises "his attachment to France and adherence to the fundamental principles of freedom, equality and fraternity", Lasfargeas added.

The shared posts on the screen grabs posted by the anonymous Twitter user are dated 2019 and 2020.

The recently created account had also shared news items supportive of far-right commentator Eric Zemmour, a possible candidate in the 2022 elections.

The president of the bakers' union of Paris, Franck Thomasse, described his past social media activity as an "error" that this "very good professional regrets".