A French magazine alleged yesterday that President Francois Hollande routinely rides through the streets of Paris on a scooter to spend the night with his mistress, raising concerns for the security of the head of state.
Hollande reacted furiously to the allegation, backed up by photos reportedly showing the president entering the flat of actress Julie Gayet, but did not deny it. He threatened legal action over what he called an attack on his right to privacy.
Closer magazine carried a seven-page report on the 59-year-old politician's alleged infidelity under the headline "Francois Hollande and Julie Gayet - the president's secret love".
"It's a real passion that has ... turned their lives upside down and makes them take insane risks," the magazine said.
To back up its claims, the magazine printed photos of Gayet, 41, arriving at a flat in an upmarket part of Paris on December 30, not far from the Elysee palace where Hollande lives.
Half an hour later, a man whom they identify as Hollande's bodyguard inspects the hallway of the apartment block before the arrival of a scooter with two helmeted men on board, one of whom they say is Hollande, although his face is never revealed.
The alleged bodyguard, however, does show his face and is identified as part of Hollande's official security detail.
The next day, according to the photos, the alleged bodyguard arrives at the flat around 8am with a small bag that Closer says contains croissants.
Speaking in a personal capacity, Hollande slammed the report as an attack on the right to privacy, to which he "like every other citizen has a right".
In a statement, the president said he was "looking into possible action, including legal action".
Rumours that Hollande is having an affair with Gayet, a mother-of-two, have swirled for months.
Hollande lives with his partner, Valerie Trierweiler, a journalist for whom he left fellow politician Segolene Royal, the mother of his four children.
But the two are not married, and Trierweiler, whom Hollande described as "the love of my life" in 2010, is referred to in the American media as "the first girlfriend".
If confirmed, though, the liaison would raise considerable concerns for the security of the president.
Respected news weekly L'Express last month reported that the presidential palace's security services were increasingly worried by Hollande's "escapades".
Gayet is an established television and film actress who also appeared in one of Hollande's 2012 election campaign commercials, in which she described the then-candidate as "marvellous" but also "humble and a really good listener".
She filed a complaint in March over rumours of the affair which she said were a breach of privacy. Her lawyer said at the time there was no basis to the speculation.