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Prosecutors bring more charges against former Macron aide Benalla

AFP file photo | A May Day incident involving Alexandre Benalla (pictured) has triggered the biggest political scandal of Emmanuel Macron's presidency.

The Paris prosecutor's office announced Monday that it has opened a new investigation into Alexandre Benalla for additional acts of violence committed on May 1 in addition to the beating of a protester that has sparked outrage in France.

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This investigation was opened after two young people, aged 23 and 24, claimed to have been victims of a violent arrest at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. Images obtained by Libération showed Benalla and Vincent Crase at the scene.

The incident took place a few hours before the violent altercation with a protester occurred at the place de la Contrescarpe. Footage showed Benalla hitting a male protester and dragging away a woman while wearing a riot helmet and police tags.

Benalla, 26, was not sacked or charged until French media broke the scandal, despite senior officials knowing about the May Day incident. He also reportedly enjoyed perks unusual for someone of his rank.

Benalla was given a two-week suspension days after the incident and removed from responsibility for organising the president's security during his trips. But the alleged assault was not reported to prosecutors, despite a law requiring public officials to alert authorities if laws are broken.

The story only went public when French newspaper Le Monde published videos of Benalla's actions.

Benalla has since been charged with assault and impersonating a police officer. It has also emerged that he continued to draw a salary during his supposedly unpaid suspension.

Crase, an associate and security agent employed by Macron's La République en Marche (LREM) party, was also charged along with three police officers.

>> Read more: Who's Who in France's Benalla affair

Benalla has admitted to the "stupidity" of his actions, but has also slammed the resulting scandal as an attempt to smear Macron.

"I feel like I have done something really stupid. And have made a mistake ... I should never have gone to that demonstration as an observer," Benalla told Le Monde.

However, Benalla also denounced what he said was a "desire to get at the president" over the scandal, suggesting footage of the May Day incident had been leaked to the press by "high-level people" in order to "settle scores".

"I won't say I was the fall guy; I'm just saying it served various interests, the interest of getting at the president of the Republic."

Two parliamentary committees have been grilling top aides to Macron over the affair, with the president's chief of staff Alexis Kohler the latest to take the stand on Thursday.

Kohler, speaking before a Senate committee, acknowledged that officials' initial decision to punish Benalla with only a two-week suspension may "appear insufficient" but at the time it seemed "proportionate".

Macron, who broke his silence on the Benalla Affair last week, has further angered critics by appearing to accuse the media for “talking nonsense”. He dismissed the whole saga as a "storm in a teacup".

But the political fallout has been real enough, even for Macron. The president's already low approval ratings have taken a further hit from the scandal, with a record 60 percent reporting an unfavourable opinion of him in an Ipsos poll published last week.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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