Macron’s ex-bodyguard goes on trial over assaults
“I am not a thug
A former security aide to President Emmanuel Macron who triggered a political crisis when he was identified as having beaten up a protester during a 2018 May Day demonstration went on trial on Monday on a dozen charges, including voluntary violence, illegally wearing a police badge and carrying a weapon.
Alexandre Benalla, 30, risks up to seven years in prison and 100,000 euros ($118,000) in fines if found guilty.
Benalla’s actions, and the way Macron’s office clumsily handled them, caused the French leader’s first serious presidential crisis and discredited his efforts to clean up politics.
At the heart of the controversy was Benalla’s murky role at the presidential Elysee Palace — where a police security contingent is charged with protecting the president — and whether Macron’s presidency had a hidden side with Benalla a critical player.
Intense media coverage and a televised parliamentary inquiry that put top Elysee officials, normally invisible to the public, at centre stage turned the Benalla affair into political soap opera peppered with intrigue.
A bevy of questions included why the aide stepped into the role of a police officer in the May Day confrontation as real officers stood by watching. Benalla was at the demonstration as an observer.
Among other mysteries that emerged was why Benalla held two diplomatic passports after being dismissed from his ill-defined job at the presidential palace, used for travel to African countries.
He told a Senate committee that he thought he was allowed to use them, but had made a mistake.
Benalla told a Senate inquiry in September 2018 that much of his role had involved liaising between Macron’s political office and the official security body charged with protecting the president, known as GSPR and made up of top-level gendarmes and senior police officers.
“I am not a thug,” he said.
‘It was war’
An initial investigation was opened when a photo showed Benalla with a gun at his hip while serving as a security aide for Macron during his presidential campaign in 2017.
It is for illegally carrying a firearm that Benalla risks seven years in prison if found guilty.
Benalla is being tried with three other people, two of them police officers who shared with him video-surveillance images showing him dealing blows to a demonstrator. The tip-off is a violation of professional secrets.
Hundreds of violent demonstrators had invaded the traditional May 1 march by unions when Benalla moved into action in a small Left Bank square.
“It was war,” Benalla told investigators, insisting that as an observer he had no intention of acting violently but intervened because it was his duty as a citizen.
Benalla was initially given a 15-day suspension from his job before returning and heading security for the France team’s victory parade down the Champs-Elysees Avenue on Bastille Day after winning the world championship.
He was placed under investigation later in July and, amid public outcry, fired from his job at the presidential palace.