Macron’s Aide Probed Over ‘False Testimony’ In Bodyguard Scandal

In this video grab taken on July 19, 2018 a man is identified as Elysee Chief Security Officer Alexandre Benalla wearing a police visor as he drags away a demonstrator during May 1 protests in Paris.  Tahar Bouhafs / AFP

 

Paris prosecutors Monday opened a probe into alleged false testimony in the case of French President Emmanuel Macron’s former bodyguard who was filmed hitting protesters at last year’s May Day rally.

Those targeted include the president’s cabinet chief Patrick Strzoda, prosecutors said in a statement.

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The scandal — which saw Alexandre Benalla fired last year after a video emerged of him roughing up protestors — continues to overshadow the Macron presidency.

A perjury probe has been opened targeting Benalla as well as Vincent Crase, a former staffer of Macron’s ruling party, and Strzoda, prosecutors said in a statement.

It comes after several protagonists in the case testified before the commission of inquiry of France’s upper house, the Senate.

The investigations were opened after the Senate signalled deficiencies in testimony to the Paris prosecutors.

The Senate complained of “incoherence and contradictions” in the testimony of Strzoda and two other top aides of Macron, chief of staff Alexis Kohler and presidential security chief Lionel Lavergne.

A former bouncer, Benalla began working as a bodyguard for Macron during the young candidate’s election campaign in 2016 before being promoted to a senior security role in the presidential palace following Macron’s election in May 2017.

After being given leave by the presidency to attend the May Day protest as an observer, he waded into the fray wearing a police helmet, grabbing a female demonstrator by the neck and hitting a male demonstrator.

The presidency initially held off reporting Benalla to the authorities.

Benalla was fired and placed under investigation after Le Monde newspaper broke the story in July 2018. It was Strzoda who authorised Benalla to attend the demonstration.

A French Senate commission of inquiry found “major flaws” in the government’s handling of the affair and said it suspected Macron’s aides of trying to cover up some of the details.

Perjury can be punished in France with up to five years in jail.

AFP

Macron’s Ex-Bodyguard In Custody Over Use Of Diplomatic Passports

(file photo) Former Elysee senior security officer Alexandre Benalla looks over prior to the start a Senate committee in Paris. Bertrand GUAY / AFP

 

A former bodyguard for French President Emmanuel Macron was taken into police custody Thursday over his continued use of diplomatic passports after he was fired for roughing up protesters, prosecutors said.

Alexandre Benalla was a security official and a member of Macron’s inner circle before his dismissal last summer after a video emerged of him assaulting protesters at a May Day demonstration while wearing a police helmet.

The video, and claims that Macron’s office tried to cover up the affair, caused a political storm that severely dented the president’s popularity.

Benalla was eventually sacked on August 1, and he has since been charged with assault and impersonating a police officer.

But the 27-year-old returned to the headlines recently after it emerged he had retained several diplomatic passports even after losing his job.

In particular, he used them to travel to Africa to meet with top officials in what some officials fear was an attempt to profit from his former insider status.

Police opened an investigation into suspected abuse of trust and illegal use of professional documents, and a Senate hearing renewed its hearings this week of government officials, including Macron’s office director Patrick Strzoda.

On Wednesday Benalla was further charged with “forgery, using false documentation, and obtaining an administrative document under false pretences”, prosecutors said.

Benalla has claimed that he returned the passports shortly after being fired, but that they were handed back to him by a “presidential aide” in October.

He is also suspected of having kept a government-issued cellphone with special encryption capabilities.

The former bouncer began working as a bodyguard for Macron during his election campaign in 2016 before being promoted to a senior security role in the presidential palace in May 2017.

AFP

Macron Faces New Embarrassment From Ex-Bodyguard

 Former Elysee senior security officer Alexandre Benalla speaks to the press as he arrives for a Senate commission in Paris.  Bertrand GUAY / AFP

 

Emmanuel Macron’s disgraced ex-bodyguard said he continued to exchange messages regularly with the French president even after he was forced out of his job in July over a scandal.

Alexandre Benalla caused the most damaging controversy of Macron’s presidency after he was caught on video roughing up protesters at a demonstration in May while wearing a police helmet.

And he was at the center of more embarrassing headlines for the embattled 41-year-old head of state last week when it emerged he had retained his diplomatic passports even after losing his job.

In an interview with investigative website Mediapart, Benalla said Sunday that he continued giving advice to Macron via the Telegram messaging app, which the president uses intensively.

“We exchange messages on lots of different subjects. It’s often like, ‘how do you see things’. It could be about the ‘yellow vests’, the views on someone or security issues,” Benalla said.

The 27-year-old former bouncer began working as a bodyguard for Macron during his campaign for the presidency in 2016 before being promoted to a senior security role in the presidential palace in May 2017.

Benalla’s role and the ties between the two men have been the focus of intense media scrutiny and the latest comments undermine efforts by Macron to distance himself publicly.

The French president is to give a televised New Year’s address later on Monday evening at 8:00 pm (1900 GMT) — the same time as “yellow vest” protesters have called for a new demonstration on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.

The protest movement, which swelled up from rural and small-town France in November, has waned in intensity in recent weeks after Macron announced a series of measures for low-income families.

Benalla admitted visiting around a dozen countries in recent months and he said he always gave an account of his trips to the president or his aides.

He met with Chad’s President Idriss Deby earlier in December, and Le Monde newspaper has reported that he held talks with the Republic of Congo’s President Denis Sassou-Nguesso, as well as top officials in Cameroon.

“I explain that I’ve seen so and so and what was said. Afterward they can do what they like with it,” Benalla told Mediapart.

He added, however, that since the revelations about his diplomatic passport emerged “the link has been cut” with the presidency.

Last Tuesday, the French presidency said that Benalla was “not an official or unofficial emissary”.

But Benalla denied suggestions from the foreign ministry that he had used his diplomatic passports illegally, something which prosecutors are now examining.

“If they don’t want me to use these passports, they could deactivate them,” he said.

“When you travel abroad with a diplomatic passport, the French embassy knows when you arrive,” he added.

AFP

Macron’s Ex-Bodyguard Faces Fresh Charges In ‘Benallagate’ Scandal

Alexandre Benalla

 

A former top security aide to French President Emmanuel Macron who caused a political storm after it emerged he had roughed up protesters at a May Day demonstration is facing further charges over the affair.

Ex-bodyguard Alexandre Benalla, 26, is already facing two criminal charges after videos emerged of him manhandling demonstrators on May 1 in Paris while wearing a police helmet and armband.

A source told AFP Sunday that he was charged on November 29 with two more offences over events earlier during the protest in which he allegedly participated “actively in the questioning” of a man.

Benalla is accused of “interference in the exercise of a public function” and “deliberate violence”, according to the source.

Revelations that top officials in Macron’s office knew about the incidents but did not report Benalla to prosecutors earlier prompted accusations of an attempted cover-up, which the government denied.

Instead, Benalla was given a two-week suspension days after the incident and removed from organising the president’s security during his trips.

He was not sacked or charged until the scandal broke in July amid reports he enjoyed perks unusual for someone of his rank.

Benalla later defended his actions during the protest, saying through his lawyer that he was “lending a hand”.

Questioned by three judges in court on November 29, he again defended his actions saying he “helped the police to question a violent delinquent who had just committed a serious offence against police”.

He was previously charged with assault, impersonating a police officer and illegally receiving police surveillance footage in a bid to claim his actions were justified.

Vincent Crase, an associate and security agent employed by Macron’s Republic on the Move (LREM) party who was also at the scene, has also been charged, as have three police officers.

Macron Dismisses Bodyguard Scandal As ‘Storm In A Teacup’

FILE: French President Emmanuel Macron attends a joint news conference with the Angolan President at the Elysee Palace in Paris, on May 28, 2018.
PHILIPPE WOJAZER / AFP

French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday dismissed the scandal surrounding a top security aide who roughed up protesters as a “storm in a teacup”, as furious criticism from his opponents showed no sign of abating.

The former bodyguard in question, 26-year-old Alexandre Benalla, denounced what he said was a “desire to get at the president” over the scandal, the most damaging since Macron took office over a year ago.

Benalla, who faces criminal charges after videos emerged of him manhandling May Day demonstrators in Paris while wearing a police helmet and armband, admitted however that he had “made a mistake”.

“I feel like I have done something really stupid. And have made a mistake,” Benalla, who has been charged with assault and impersonating a police officer, told Le Monde newspaper.

“I should never have gone to that demonstration as an observer, then I should have held back,” he said of the incident, in which he was filmed hitting a protester and wrestling another to the ground.

Revelations that top officials in Macron’s office knew about the incident but did not report Benalla to prosecutors have prompted accusations of an attempted cover-up, which the government denies.

The centrist president sought to downplay the affair on Thursday.

“I’ve said what I had to say, which is that I think it’s a storm in a teacup,” he told AFP on a visit to the village of Campan in southwest France.

‘Monarchical leanings’

Christian Jacob of the rightwing Republicans, who like many opponents has charged Macron with displaying arrogance in his response, accused the president of “monarchical leanings”.

“We’re facing a very serious incident — the president must explain himself before the people, he cannot do it with the disdain and provocation with which he has done so thus far,” Jacob told Franceinfo radio.

Opposition lawmakers have repeatedly called on Macron to address the nation over the affair.

After days of silence, Macron gave a defiant speech to members of his LREM party on Tuesday which appeared to take aim at parliament’s relentless grilling of his aides over the scandal.

“The only person responsible for this affair is me,” he said, while describing Benalla’s actions as “a disappointment and a betrayal”.

“If they’re looking for someone to hold responsible, he’s right in front of you. They can come and get me.”

On Wednesday, he accused his opponents of “disproportionate actions”, adding he remained proud to have hired former bouncer Benalla as he was a “devoted” employee who had “taken an unusual path” professionally.

Two parliamentary committees have been grilling top Macron aides, with the president’s chief of staff Alexis Kohler the latest to take the stand before the Senate on Thursday.

Kohler acknowledged that officials’ initial decision to punish Benalla with a two-week suspension may “appear insufficient” but at the time it seemed “proportionate”.

Macron’s office director Patrick Strzoda told lawmakers Tuesday that he decided there were not enough elements to justify turning Benalla over to prosecutors, not least because no criminal complaint had been filed against him.

The opposition Republicans are set to file a vote of confidence in the government on Friday — a largely symbolic move, since Macron’s centrists hold a strong majority in parliament.

Macron’s approval ratings, already low, appear to have taken a further hit from the scandal, with a record 60 percent reporting an unfavourable opinion of him in an Ipsos poll published Tuesday.

Along with Benalla, Vincent Crase, an LREM security agent who was also at the scene, has also been charged over the affair, as have three police officers accused of giving Benalla surveillance footage so he could mount a defence.

Macron’s Aide To Be Fired For Manhandling Protester

This picture taken on July 20, 2018, in Paris shows the headquarters of the judicial police where top security French aide Alexandre Benalla has been detained for questioning on charges of manhandling and striking a demonstrator while wearing a police helmet. PHOTO: Eric FEFERBERG / AFP

 

The office of French President Emmanuel Macron, on Friday, said that it has begun dismissal proceedings against a top security aide who violently struck a protester during a demonstration in Paris, in May.

A video published this week shows Alexandre Benalla manhandling and striking a demonstrator while wearing a police helmet, even though he is not an officer.

Paris prosecutors also said Benalla has been detained for questioning in the assault inquiry, where he also faces charges of impersonating a police officer.

Macron’s office said the decision to fire Benalla was taken after “new elements” emerged in the case, which has become the most damaging scandal facing the centrist president since his election last year.

A source close to the inquiry said three police officers have also been suspended on suspicion they provided Benalla with surveillance footage of the May 1 demonstration in an attempt to prove his innocence.

“He is suspected of receiving material from the police he was not authorised to have,” the Elysee said.

Lawmakers have also launched a commission of inquiry as a second video of the incident emerged, in which Benalla is also seen violently wrestling a young woman to the ground.

Benalla was punished with a two-week suspension without pay in May and later transferred to another post, but the incident was not reported to prosecutors.

AFP