Paris's best baguette maker roasted over extremist posts on social media

Tunisia-born immigrant, 42, failed to show up to claim prize following controversy

A Tunisia-born baker who won an annual award for the best baguette in Paris has found himself at the centre of a controversy over extremist posts he allegedly shared on social media.

Makram Akrout was hailed as an immigrant success story in France after his east Paris bakery, Boulangers de Reuilly, won the competition that had more than 173 contestants.

But he failed to show up for the awards ceremony this weekend amid a growing row over his apparent Islamist views.

By tradition, the winner of the award is given €4,000 and a contract to supply the presidential Elysee Palace with baguettes for a year.

Screengrabs published by an anonymous Twitter user claimed to show that Mr Akrout had shared, on a now deleted Facebook account, posts expressing extremist ideas.

Mr 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 Saturday's ceremony 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 constraint" and could not attend, Mr Gregoire said.

Mr 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.

Mr Akrout, 42, has worked for 19 years as a baker in France since arriving from Tunisia.

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

But the allegations prompted Mr Akrout to be targeted by abuse on social media, and it is unclear if the Elysee will continue with the baguette supply contract. It has yet to comment.

"This poses an issue for the delivery to the Elysee if it turns out that unfortunate things were said in the past," Mr Gregoire said.

City Hall has asked police to investigate the social media posts further.

Mr 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.

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

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

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".

Updated: October 4th 2021, 2:45 PM