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Tuesday, February 24, 1998 Published at 19:21 GMT

World: Europe

De Niro furious over French grilling

Robert De Niro: returning the Legion of Honour

US actor Robert De Niro has vowed never to set foot in France again after being publicly named in a Paris prostitution investigation.

"I will never return to France. I will advise my friends against going to France," De Niro told Le Monde newspaper in an interview published on Tuesday.

The 54-year-old Hollywood star last year received one of France's most prestigious decorations, the Legion of Honour, in recognition of his acting talents.

He would "send your Legion of Honour back to the ambassador, as soon as possible", he said, adding that he wanted nothing to do with the Cannes film festival.

"I don't see any reason why I should hang on to that thing which comes from a country which flouts its own motto 'liberty, equality and fraternity," he remarked.

"I'm well beyond what one might call furious."

Questioned about call girls

De Niro has denied any involvement in the prostitution ring.

He was pounced on by several policemen when he came to Paris earlier in February for a film shoot.

They hauled him in for nine hours of questioning in front of a French prosecutor.

Investigating magistrate Frederic Nguyen has been probing an elite prostitution ring for several months and has sent two people to jail awaiting possible trial.

The magistrate wanted to speak to De Niro after his name was mentioned by one of the call girls.

De Niro, famed for his intense screen roles, said that he had never paid for sex, "and even if I had, it wouldn't have been a crime".

Magistrate seemed obsessed

In a broadside against Mr Nguyen, De Niro said: "I don't know what his problem is, but he really has one.

"He talks about rich and famous people like he's obsessed. He sees himself as the saviour of badly treated girls.

"Even the police seemed embarrassed about his way of doing things," the actor added.

News about the February 10 questioning of De Niro spread rapidly and hordes of photographers were waiting for the celebrity as he left the Paris law courts after the questioning.

De Niro said his pregnant wife and his mother, who has a heart condition, should not have been subjected to such publicity.

"I've been forced to explain to my family that I'm the innocent victim, but there is always that bad saying -- 'where there's smoke there's fire'," he told Le Monde.

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