Divisive French comedian Dieudonné given two-year sentence for tax fraud

French comedian Dieudonné, a convicted anti-Semite whose shows the government once tried to shut down, was sentenced to two years in jail for tax fraud and money laundering on Friday by a court in Paris.

Divisive French comedian Dieudonné given two-year sentence for tax fraud
Photos AFP

The controversial performer, who has also been found guilty of condoning terrorism in the past, has a loyal following in France, particularly in low-income suburban areas of major cities.

The court in Paris handed him a €200,000 ($225,000) fine, as well as the two-year jail sentence, which he is unlikely to serve under arrangements that will allow him to do community service instead.

The trial related to over one million euros of undeclared earnings from the showman, whose full name is Dieudonné M'Bala M'Bala.

Investigators found €657,000 at his home in cash, while he and accomplices sent €565,000 overseas, mainly to Cameroon where he has family roots.

Dieudonné, 53, once invited a Holocaust denier onto stage and rails against the “Zionist lobby” which he claims controls the world, though he claims his right to free speech has been infringed.

He has popularised a hand gesture known as the “quenelle”, which was criticised for resembling a Nazi salute.

In 2014, then Socialist prime minister Manuel Valls attempted to get regional authorities to shut down Dieudonne's shows, arguing that they posed a threat to public safety.

The comedian managed to have some of the bans overturned.

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French comic Dieudonné handed jail sentence

A French court handed controversial French comedian Dieudonné a two-month suspended jail sentence on Wednesday for condoning terrorism after a comment suggesting he sympathised with one of the jihadists who attacked Paris.

French comic Dieudonné handed jail sentence
French comedian Dieudonne, who was handed a suspended jail sentence this week. Photo: AFP

The polemicist was arrested on January 14 after writing "I feel like Charlie Coulibaly" on Facebook, a mix of the slogan "Je suis Charlie" that became a global rallying cry against extremism and Amedy Coulibaly, one of the assailants who killed a policewoman and four Jews.

His arrest was one of dozens of cases opened for "condoning terrorism" or "making threats to carry out terrorist acts" after the attackers killed 17 people in the January 7-9 shooting spree that also targeted satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

The comedian is a controversial figure who has often made headlines, most notably with his trademark "quenelle" hand gesture that looks like an inverted Nazi salute, but which he insists is merely anti-establishment.

But his arrest — and that of other people, some of whom were sent straight to jail for one to four years — raised questions about free speech in France.

The prosecutor had called for a fine of 30,000 euros ($31,000), which if he fails to pay up could turn into a prison sentence.

During the trial, prosecutor Annabelle Philippe said Dieudonne had presented "in a favourable light the acts committed by Amedy Coulibaly".

But Dieudonne said he "condemned the attacks without any restraint and without any ambiguity".