Married far-right French presidential hopeful, 63, embraces aide, 28

Married far-right French presidential hopeful Eric Zemmour, 63, faces affair claims after he is photographed embracing female political advisor, 28, in the sea

  • Zemmour was pictured with aide Sarah Knafo while swimming near Toulon
  • The talk-show host has been married to Mylene Chichportich, 62, for 35 years
  • The controversial star is rising in polls, threatening Marine Le Pen’s election bid 

Éric Zemmour, a right-wing talk-show star with ambitions of being the next French president, has become embroiled in a scandal after photos showed him embracing his much younger political aide.

The 63-year-old author, who says Mohammed should be banned as a first name and holds convictions for inciting hatred, has three children with his wife of 35 years Mylene Chichportich, 62.

But the rising political star, whose campaigns threatens the leadership ambitions of Marine Le Pen, was pictured on the cover of Paris Match magazine with his arm around Sarah Knafo, 28, while swimming in the Mediterranean near Toulon last weekend.

Éric Zemmour, pictured with his wife of 35 years Mylene Chichportich, is at the centre of a scandal after photos emerged of him embracing his young political aide 

The rising political star was pictured on the cover of Paris Match magazine with his arm around Sarah Knafo (pictured), 28

Zemmour has accused Emmanuel Macron of orchestrating the publication of the news to damage his chances in France’s presidential elections in April.

He tweeted: ‘It seems that I am beginning to cause enough worry for Paris Match, the poodle of the governing powers, to try to damage me. I will not be intimidate.’

Lawyers representing both Zemmour and Knafo, a senior civil servant on leave to join his campaign, said they will be suing Paris Match for breaching privacy laws.

A polarising figure who has made a career of testing the limits of political correctness, Zemmour is climbing in voter surveys despite not having declared himself as a candidate.  

He has quit his prime-time chat show to comply with electoral rules and described himself as a ‘candidate in the debate’.

Le Pen is still considered the strongest challenger to Macron’s reelection bid, but Zemmour could pull votes away from his less radical right-wing rival.

Lawyers representing both Zemmour and Knafo (pictured together), a senior civil servant on leave to join his campaign, said they will be suing Paris Match for breaching privacy laws

The centrist president has tirelessly wooed centre-right voters during his first mandate to weaken the mainstream Les Republicains party and engineer a repeat run-off vote against Le Pen, whom he defeated in 2017.

‘I’ve been warning the Elysee for two months now. Zemmour is not good news for us,’ said a close ally of Macron. ‘The only person who can win against Macron is the centre-right candidate.’ 

But some opponents of Zemmour claim the pundit staged a false exposé of his alleged affair to gain publicity and endear him to the French public.

Left-wing newspaper Libération wrote: ‘It is difficult not to think that his celebrity coverage follows a well-oiled publicity logic stemming from a wish by Zemmour to keep up the media noise while at the same time humanising himself.’

It would not be the first time a French politician has been caught up in a love triangle, and the dalliances are usually met with public amusement and little backlash.

Some opponents of Zemmour (pictured during a TV debate with other election hopefuls) claim the pundit staged a false exposé of his alleged affair to gain publicity and endear him to the French public

Paris Match, which backs Macron and has never put Le Pen on its cover, would have been unlikely to deliberately sabotage Zemmour, insiders told The Times.

The magazine’s owners are in the process of being taken over by the billionaire owner of CNews, Zemmour’s talk-show channel.

The photos did spark comments about Zemmour’s previous remarks about women, once saying that when they marry, they gain a master.

Although a highly controversial figure with his remarks on Muslims, the LGBT community and feminism, Zemmour has tapped into a rising anti-EU and immigration stance growing in France.

Launching his book ‘France Has Not Yet Said its Final Word’ in the southern city of Toulon last week, Zemmour lambasted a ‘useless’ EU and decried what he called the erosion of French identity during waves of migration.

He paints himself as a political outsider in tune with an alienated middle class and in his book draws parallels between himself and former US President Donald Trump.

The Paris-born son of Jewish Berbers who emigrated from Algeria in the 1950s, Zemmour calls for the ‘re-Frenchification’ of France.

He has said he would prohibit families from giving children non-French first names and outright ban the wearing of religious symbols, such as Islamic headscarves, because they stand in the way of immigrants becoming true French citizens.

Sarah Knafo is seen backstage before Eric Zemmour engages in a TV debate yesterday

‘We have to tell French people of migrant origin to make a choice on who they are,’ Zemmour said. ‘The problem, quite simply, is that the French state, its leaders, have out of cowardliness refused to insist this choice be made.’ 

His message resonated with those in the audience in Toulon.

‘He’s right on many issues, is he not? Are there not too many immigrants?’ said Dany Becker who had travelled several hours to hear Zemmour speak. ‘If we held referendums on many of these issues, France would agree with him.’

Polls have for months shown a runoff between Macron and Le Pen to be the most likely scenario – without Zemmour in the running. Now that Zemmour is signalling a challenge, some 8 per cent -11 per cent of voters say they would back him in the first round.

Given Zemmour’s support would come largely from Le Pen’s voter base, that could open the way for the eventual centre-right challenger to make the runoff, where they would pose a greater threat to Macron than Le Pen.

Election tradition holds that the left and right reluctantly coalesce in a two-way runoff to keep the far right out.

Seven months before the April 10 first round, none of the mainstream centre-left and centre-right parties have confirmed their candidate, with several big names still on the sidelines.

Zemmour this month successfully overturned on appeal one of several convictions for inciting hate. He faces another trial for remarks a year ago when he called unaccompanied child migrants ‘thieves, killers, rapists’. 

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