Monday 20 May 2019

Macron’s former aide quizzed by French senate

Alexandre Benalla was the star witness of a senate commission probing issues triggered by the march at which he was videotaped beating a protester.

Alexandre Benalla appears before the French senate (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Alexandre Benalla appears before the French senate (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

By Elaine Ganley, Associated Press

A former security aide of French President Emmanuel Macron who was videotaped beating a protester has apologised for insulting a senate commission.

Alexandre Benalla was the star witness of a senate commission investigating issues triggered by the May Day march at which the former aide was videotaped beating a protester.

Benalla’s blows to a protester at the march, which had descended into violence, led to Mr Macron’s most difficult period in office since he became president in May 2017.

“I have a deep respect for the senate,” Benalla told the commission.

I am not a thug Alexandre Benalla

The ex-aide said he had overreacted in a radio interview last week when he insulted the panel, because he felt some were “using the institutions of our country for political and media ends”.

“I’ve been raised in the respect of these institutions.”

The commission, which has taken evidence from ministers, generals and other ranking officials, is trying to understand the nature of Benalla’s job at the presidential Elysee Palace and why he benefited from numerous perks, including permission to carry a gun.

It is also trying to uncover possible dysfunctions in Mr Macron’s security detail.

Preliminary charges, including being involved in group violence, have been filed against Benalla, 27, and as a result questions about his actions on May Day are off-limits.

Benalla was quizzed for nearly two-and-a-half hours (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

Some members of Mr Macron’s centrist party have protested Benalla’s appearance, with party chief Christophe Castaner suggesting at one point that it was part of a ploy to “bring down the president”.

Benalla’s apology came in a nearly two-and-a-half hours-long grilling during which he said he carried a gun for his personal protection — not the president’s — and insisted he was never Mr Macron’s bodyguard.

Benalla was identified in late July as one of two men seen in an online video brutally roughing up a protester at the violent May Day march even though he was present as an observer.

“I am not a thug … a little ruffian,” Benalla said in reference to speculation that he was a hot-tempered man lacking the status of others at the presidential Elysee Palace.

He was fired only when the affair became a political scandal and Mr Macron is reorganising the Elysee to address alleged dysfunctions.

The belated firing of Benalla, and an initial light punishment, fed questions about whether the presidency under Mr Macron had a hidden side that answered to no one with Benalla playing a critical role.

Benalla stressed that he was never Mr Macron’s bodyguard, saying his job was helping to orchestrate presidential outings.

Press Association

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