Published: Mon, July 23, 2018

Macron walks a tightrope over security aide scandal

Macron walks a tightrope over security aide scandal

Alexandre Benalla's involvement in the beating and questions about the government's handling of the affair is turning into Macron's biggest political crisis since he took office past year.

The Paris prosecutor's office said Alexandre Benalla and four others went before a judge Sunday and charges could be brought in the case soon. Benalla, now a top security aide to Macron, was caught on camera beating a May Day protester.

Benalla faces possible charges of violence by a public official, illegal use of surveillance video and impersonating a police officer.

Alexandre Benalla, who was Mr Macron's top bodyguard, was sacked on Friday after he was exposed as the attacker.

French daily Le Monde publishes a video taken by smartphone showing Alexandre Benalla, a senior security aide to Macron, manhandling and striking a protester while wearing a police helmet and visor during a May 1 demonstration.

Macron's office has said Benalla only was supposed to be accompanying officers to the May protest as an observer.

Three high-ranking police officers, already suspended on suspicion they illegally gave Benalla video surveillance footage of the incidents to help him try to clear his name, were charged with misappropriation of the images and violating professional secrecy.

The affair is particularly embarrassing for Macron since he won the presidency with pledges to restore transparency and integrity to the nation's highest office.

The presidential Elysee Palace fired bodyguard Benalla a day before police raided his home Saturday morning in the Parisian suburb of Issy-Les-Moulineaux, according to the Paris prosecutor's office.

Lawmakers were aghast to learn that Benalla initially received only a two-week suspension and still had an office in the presidential palace 2½ months after the beating instead of having been reported to judicial authorities. It said last week that since May, Benalla had been working in an administrative role instead of security.

After winning the presidency a year ago at the head of a new political movement, Macron's poll ratings have been falling steadily, down to barely 40 percent.

Laurent Wauquiez, head of the Republicans, denounced the video as "shocking".

Since last Thursday they have effectively blocked the government's efforts to debate a constitutional reform bill promised by Macron during his election campaign.

"If Macron doesn't explain himself the Benalla affair will become the Macron affair", far-right leader Marine Le Pen posted on Twitter.

The lower house of parliament announces that its Law Commission will publicly grill Interior Minister Gerard Collomb from 10 am (0800 GMT) on Monday, after media reports suggested he knew about Benalla's assault but kept quiet. But Benalla was photographed by the president's side during France's July 14 national holiday.

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