Created in 1802 by Napoleon, the Légion d’Honneur is given to nearly 3,000 people every year to recognise civilian or military service to France, including by foreign citizens.
The award has faced its share of controversies. Here are some of the names that have turned heads over the years.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif of Saudi Arabia
François Hollande came under fire for giving the Légion d’Honneur to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, despite condemning mass executions in the country just two months earlier.
The American singer was awarded the Légion d’Honneur in 2013, although the ceremony had been delayed amid controversy that cannabis use and anti-war politics made him unworthy. He was praised for his cultural importance and serving as a role model for justice and independence. National Front leader Marine Le Pen called his decoration ‘scandalous’.
The Russian president was among a handful of people given the Grand Croix, the Légion d’Honneur’s highest rank in 2006. Then-president Jacques Chirac was criticised for the award and for holding the ceremony in secret.
France awarded the honour to the Syrian dictator a year after he took power in an election where political opposition was banned. He has been accused of execution and torture in the brutal crushing of opposition to his regime.
Decorated shortly before winning his seventh consecutive Tour de France title, the disgraced cyclist’s award was withdrawn after he became embroiled in the biggest doping scandal in sport history. France called it a ‘breach of the honour’.
… but Mussolini was allowed to keep his award, despite his fascist rule and collaboration with the Nazi regime. Mussolini was awarded the Légion d’Honneur in 1923.
Panama’s former dictator was given the Légion d’Honneur two years before his removal from power by an American invasion in 1989. France was left red-faced and stripped him of his award when the military chief was extradited there to serve ten years in prison for money laundering.
The American film giant’s award was criticised by a French war veterans’ association, who argued that the quota for the number of veterans awarded the Légion d’Honneur has been reduced in recent years. Sarkozy called the actor a ‘global celebrity’ who kept France close to his heart.
Pétain was considered a war hero and saviour of France when he received the honour in 1917. Following his collaboration with the Nazis in the Second World War, he was imprisoned until his death in 1951.
President of Gabon and son of the nation’s longest serving ruler, Ali Bongo was made Grand Officier de la Légion d’Honneur in 2010. Critics accuse him of controlling the media and misusing public money. His family owned an estimated 150 million euros worth of assets in France.