French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin faced growing criticism and accusations of lying on Wednesday after he blamed the chaos at this weekend’s Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid on “massive” ticket scams.
French far-right leader Marine Le Pen suggested he should resign after he defended the French police and blamed ticket counterfeiting for the crushes on Saturday which overshadowed the biggest night in European football.
“The facts are extremely serious and the lie by the minister is extremely serious,” Le Pen told France 2 television.
“In any other democracy, faced with such a fiasco, with chaos that occurred in front of 400 million people watching on television, which offered a dreadful image of France, then he should consider himself that he should resign,” she added.
Darmanin blamed “massive, industrial-scale and organised fraud in fake tickets” for the chaos and said that 30 000 to 40 000 Liverpool fans had turned up at the stadium either “without tickets or with counterfeited tickets”.
He also claimed that as many as 70 per cent of tickets were found to be fraudulent by staff at the first security checkpoints outside the Stade de France.
Sources within Uefa and the French football federation told AFP on Tuesday that only 2 800 fake tickets were detected at the entrance gates of the stadium, suggesting the problem was more about managing flows of ticketless fans outside.
Darmanin, 39, has rejected criticism of the police – calling it “rather low and inappropriate” – despite images showing some officers firing teargas and pepper spray that affected children and handicapped fans.
The scenes have caused renewed tensions between France and Britain, whose ties are already strained, and have become a domestic political headache for the government less than two weeks before parliamentary elections.
President Emmanuel Macron was reported on Wednesday by the BFM TV channel to be “furious” with his interior minister.
Darmanin is a pugnacious rightwinger from northern France who was recently extended in his role as interior minister by Macron following presidential elections in April.
Suspected of harbouring presidential ambitions of his own, he is an ardent defender of the French police against recurrent criticism of their tactics, once saying that “when I hear the term ‘police violence’, personally I choke.”
The remark in July 2020 came amid a debate in France about the use of so-called “chokeholds” by police that had been linked to the deaths of two men of African origin.
The leftwing Liberation newspaper depicted him on its front page on Wednesday with his nose stretched out like Pinocchio, which was applauded on Twitter by English football legend Gary Lineker.
The newspaper’s editorial headlined “Lie” said the final “risks remaining in the annals of the republic long even after it has been forgotten by football fans.”
Senior leftwing opposition MP Manuel Bompard told Franceinfo on Wednesday that “the explanation given by Mr Darmanin… is an explanation that does not make sense.”
“When you make a mistake – and mistakes happen – the best thing is to acknowledge your error, not to invent fake figures to try to hide it,” he said.
Darmanin and Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera are expected to appear before a Senate commission later Wednesday where they will face questions about security at the game, which tarnished France’s image ahead of its hosting of the rugby World Cup next year and the Olympics in 2024.
“What we expect is clarity and, I almost want to say, honesty,” the head of the Senate commission, François-Noel Buffet, told Franceinfo radio.
On the number of counterfeited tickets, “we need to know what the truth is. The two ministers need to say what they are basing their statements on,” added Buffet, who is from the opposition Republicans party.
“If this fraud was massive and genuinely true and real, there’s an issue, but if it’s not the truth, then there’s another subject which is about trust in public statements and the real understanding of the ministers in charge of this area,” he added.
Liverpool have also asked for an apology from French authorities for the treatment of their fans, while the chairman of the club has condemned separate comments from Oudea-Castera.
She initially blamed Liverpool for failing to properly organise its supporters who travelled to Paris.
Liverpool chairman Tom Werner called the statement “irresponsible, unprofessional, and wholly disrespectful” in a letter leaked to the local Liverpool Echo newspaper on Tuesday