Macron faces cover-up accusations after his aide ‘donned police helmet and beat protesters’
When a senior aide of Emmanuel Macron was filmed assaulting a young man and a woman on the fringe of a May Day protest in Paris, the president was visiting Australia.
Now accused of a cover-up, Mr Macron appears to have had no inkling that the beating would trigger the most damaging crisis of his presidency.
The approval rating of the president, who promised “a new morality in public life”, sank to a record low this week after the footage was published, instead of an anticipated bounce from France’s World Cup victory.
The Elysée said that the president was told of the assault in May but was not shown the footage, implying that he might not have been in a position to appreciate the seriousness of the incident.
Filmed and posted on social media by a bystander, the video shows Alexandre Benalla, who served as Mr Macron’s security chief, dragging a woman and trying to throw her to the ground, and dragging and hitting a young man.
Mr Benalla was only sacked and taken into police custody on Friday, two days after the scandal flared up when Le Monde newspaper published the video, and some 10 weeks after the assault.
The Elysée has briefed journalists that his suspension was ordered by Patrick Strzoda, the president’s ‘directeur de cabinet’, who runs his office. The move was approved by his superior, Alexis Kohler, the Elysée secretary-general, or chief of staff, one of Mr Macron’s most trusted aides.
Mr Strzoda, 66, was questioned by police as a witness on Friday. Le Parisien newspaper speculated that he could be “the ideal lightning rod to protect Mr Macron”, particularly as he is reportedly due to retire in October. According to the Elysée, however, there is currently “no question” of Mr Strzoda’s departure.
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When the Elysée eventually sacked Mr Benalla, a spokesperson explained that “new facts” had emerged. Mr Benalla had allegedly colluded with police officers to remove CCTV footage of the assault. Three officers were suspended and were detained for questioning Saturday.
Mr Benalla, nicknamed “Mr Security,” faces possible charges of violence by a public official, impersonating a police officer, illegal use of police insignia, and complicity in illegally attempting to obtain surveillance video of the assault.
The mobile phone footage shows the 26-year-old former law student wearing a police helmet and insignia. He was accompanying police at the anti-government demonstration as an “observer”. Police are seen standing by without intervening.
Mr Benalla had been due to get married Saturday, but instead remained in custody while police searched his home. A bodyguard, Vincent Crase, who worked for Mr Macron’s party, was also in custody. Mr Benalla took charge of Mr Macron’s security during his election campaign last year and rose to a senior post in the president’s office.
Less than two weeks ago, he moved into a grace-and-favour apartment in a chic Paris building where President François Mitterrand once housed his mistress and illegitimate daughter at the state’s expense.
After his suspension, he was put in charge of organising events at the Elysée, including a presidential reception for the victorious football team last Monday.
A parliamentary committee investigating the scandal over the beating is to question Gérard Collomb, the interior minister, Monday. After a row over whether the committee hearings should take place in closed session, MPs from Mr Macron’s party yielded to opposition demands for them to be broadcast.
Laurent Wauquiez, leader of the conservative opposition party, The Republicans, said: “The real scandal isn’t Benalla, it’s the presidency. This is a disaster for the president’s authority. His word is discredited.”