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Emannuel Macron, aka Jupiter; Alexandre Benalla with Macron. Photo supplied
Paris

Will the Benalla Affair sink the French president?

One of Emmanuel Macron’s leading aides has been caught impersonating riot police to assault protesters. The scandal known in France as the Benalla Affair has exploded over the last week. Some are calling it a French Watergate.

Published: July 24, 2018, 9:32 am

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    Christian Jacob, group leader of Les Républicains, the mainstream centrist party in France, raised some alarming questions in an interview with Valeurs Actuelle.  “Under Jupiter [Macron’s nickname] there are privileges and there is ‘unhealthy cronyism’, as the the Paris police prefect Michel Delpuech put it during his hearing,” Jacob noted.

    “On what basis can a 26-year-old man, a ‘nightclub bouncer’, without skills, without experience and without having the status, be responsible for handling presidential protection for a country that is the fifth global power?”

    Alexandre Benalla, a Moroccan, owns a lavish home on Quai Branly in Paris, a car with a chauffeur and a flashing light, a fabulous salary, a gun, a police armband… and accreditation to the National Assembly, a very select precinct to which even the President of the Republic does not have access.

    French media reported that Benalla has some extremely high privileges. Not only does he receive a monthly wage of €10,000, but also had a government vehicle and lodgings paid for by the state. Hinting at previously unknown proximity with the presidential couple, he was also reported to possess keys to their home in Le Touquet, in northern France, where Macron and his wife, Brigitte, often retreat.

    “Does this individual, who is at the president’s side daily, have some means of pressuring the president? Faced with so many privileges, we have the right to ask this question,” Jacob said.

    In one incident involving Benalla, “riot police” pushed a peaceful protester to the ground before assaulting him. It now turns out not all of them were policemen.

    According to French daily Le Monde, one of the men beating the protester was, in fact, the top-ranking security advisor to Emmanuel Macron, dressed in riot gear.

    Shortly after officials from the Elysée Palace were alerted to the incident, the twenty-six-year-old security guard, was suspended for fifteen days. Crucially, presidential officials did not notify prosecutors. French law requires of public employees if they witness colleagues committing a crime to report it.

    After serving his brief suspension, Benalla was allowed to return to his duties and joined Macron for a ceremony at the Pantheon on July 1. He was also with the president during the Bastille Day festivities two week later.

    He even joined France’s national football team for its World Cup victory parade down the Champs-Elysées. He now faces possible charges of “violence committed by a public official” and of impersonating law enforcement officers.

    The scandal ballooned after Benalla allegedly contacted a top-level Parisian police official and requested visual material of him beating a protester to be confiscated. Three police officials complied with the request, one of them the commander in charge of the liaison between police and the Elysée. All three have since been suspended and taken into custody for questioning.

    Initially, the presidential palace tried to defend Benalla, but on Friday the dam wall broke.

    Interior Minister Gérard Collomb will appear before a special investigative committee because he knew of Benalla’s transgressions on May 2.

    Why was Benalla, a young security guard with no police background, given such extraordinary authority by the Elysée? It betrays an arrogance and sense of infallibility by the former investment banker Macron, who has not commented on the affair yet.

    According to French online publication  Brut, Benalla was supected of a hit-and-run incident several years ago. He had worked for the Socialist Party before joining Macron’s side. He has strangely not yet been charged of any wrongdoing.

    The Elysée has its own special security force, known as the Security Group of the President of the Republic, similar to the US Secret Service. Benalla, however, was never a part of this team, but rather serving the president in the a vaguely termed position of “assistant to the chief of staff” and moreover spared the consequences of his questionable actions.

    Less than two months ago, on June 6, French social media reported that Makao, another individual who served as Macron’s bodyguard during the presidential campaign, was caught on a Snapchat video playing video games with Jawad Bendaoud, a convicted criminal and landlord of the ISIS terrorists that staged the brutal November 2015 Paris gun and bomb attacks that left 137 people dead.

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