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French Senate demands probe into Macron aides over bodyguard scandal

By AFP
media Alexandre Benalla is under investigation over his use of diplomatic passports after he was fired as a French presidential aide AFP/File

A French Senate commission on Wednesday demanded an investigation of three close aides to President Emmanuel Macron after finding "major flaws" in the government's handling of a scandal involving an ex-bodyguard to the president.

The commission also recommended that the former bodyguard Alexandre Benalla face further prosecution for lying to the parliamentary body during its seven-month investigation.

In its final report, the commission accused three top Macron aides, including his chief of staff, of "omissions", "inconsistencies", and "contradictions" in their own testimony to senators over the Benalla scandal, triggered by a video showing him roughing up protesters during a May day rally.

The scandal has caused major embarrassment for Macron, and has sparked accusations from opponents that his presidency tried to cover it up.

The commission said it found "major flaws" in the state's handling of the case, which it said affected both the president's security and "national interests".

It suggested that chief of staff Patrick Strzoda, presidency secretary Alexis Kohler and security chief Lionel Lavergne, might have "withheld significant truth" during their testimony and called on prosecutors to look into their statements.

It also called for Benalla to be further investigated for possible false testimony under oath to the commission, an offence that can be punished by up to seven years in jail.

Benalla was placed in provisional detention on Tuesday after the former staffer allegedly broke the conditions of his bail.

He faces criminal charges after it emerged in July that he was the man in a police helmet filmed roughing up protesters during a 2018 May Day demonstration in Paris, which he was attending as an observer.

"What was seen on May 1 could be just the tip of the iceberg," said commission president Senator Philippe Bas.

- Insider status -

The affair emerged at a tough time for the centrist president as his approval rating has fallen sharply since his 2017 election as he struggles to end months of anti-government protests over his economic reforms.

Macron's critics point out Benalla was initially only suspended from work for two weeks, and not reported to authorities, when the video emerged.

Even after he was sacked in August, he continued to cause headaches for Macron, boasting in December that he was still in touch with him.

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

Benalla is also under investigation over his continued use of diplomatic passports after he was fired.

He admitted visiting around a dozen African countries for "consulting" purposes and claimed he always gave an account of his trips to the president or his aides.

But officials suspect he may have been trying to benefit commercially from his former insider status.

A ex-bouncer, Benalla 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 following Macron's election in May 2017.

 
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