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Macron’s former aide defends himself before Senate

Alain Jocard, AFP | Alexandre Benalla takes an oath before a French Senate committee hearing Sept. 19 2018.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s closest security officer, fired after video showed him beating May Day protesters, defended himself before a Senate inquiry on Wednesday, saying he was neither a police officer nor a genuine bodyguard.

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Alexandre Benalla, whose case erupted into a political scandal and accusations of unchecked abuses of power in the presidential palace, was questioned for more than two hours about the nature of his job as Macron’s security shadow.

Speaking under oath, the neatly dressed former logistics aide at the Élysée was not questioned about the May Day beatings in Paris, but rather his very rapid ascent within Macron’s inner circle and how he had gained the right to carry a firearm.

“I was not Macron’s bodyguard and never was... I had a job of ensuring general organisation, of security in general,” the 27-year-old, who has been accused of abusing his office and securing powers unchecked by higher Élysée staff.

Complaining of what he described as a media frenzy around him, Benalla calmly answered questions about how he came to carry a Gluck 43 pistol and to what extent his logistics job overlapped with the self-attributed role of bodyguard.

The Senate inquiry is being conducted in parallel with a judicial investigation into the May 1 incident, which involved Benalla manhandling protesters during a police-led crowd-control operation. While Benalla had asked to be present at the event as an observer, he ended up directly engaged in security and was seen on video wearing some police-marked clothing.

What turned the incident into a broader political scandal the most serious of Macron’s 15 months in office was the fact Benalla was fired only after the smartphone video became public on July 19, more than six weeks after the events.

That fuelled a public perception that the office and people around Macron, whose approval rating has plunged to about 30 percent from highs of 60 percent, were either inept or slack or both when it came to matters of policing and security.

Macron’s ministers have rounded on the opposition-controlled Senate, warning members that they risk undermining the presidency and overreaching with their decision to summon Benalla, despite a separate judicial investigation.

In response, opponents have denounced what they regard as an unprecedented attack by the presidency on the parliament.

perelman on benalla

Apologies and elaborate explanations

Benalla himself initially refused to testify, calling the senators “illegitimate” and the investigation’s chairman a “little marquis”. He flatly apologised on Wednesday, saying he had felt under pressure by the “media frenzy”.

Responding to senators’ questions without hesitation, Benalla said he requested a firearms permit for his personal safety rather than any bodyguard role. But he admitted he had attended public meetings with Macron with the gun on his belt.

Reporting from the Senate in Paris, FRANCE 24’s Marc Perelman said Benalla had come well prepared for the hearing, repeatedly underscoring how he had done his utmost to respect rules and procedures while working for Macron.

“He really wanted to show that he was not a cowboy inside the Élysée Palace. That he was respecting the rules and that he was hired because of his training, that he obeyed the hierarchy. And this was important to the senators asking him [those questions], because essentially there was this notion that something was wrong within the Élysée Palace and that he [Benalla] was much too close to Emmanuel Macron, and had too much authority over his security.”

Perelman explained that although the senators weren’t allowed to pose questions related to the elephant in the room – the May Day assault incident – because it is currently under investigation, “it was important for Alexandre Benalla, but of course also for Emmanuel Macron, to send the message that he was operating by the rules, and that what happened that day was probably an accident and not a consequence of his role while at the Élysée Palace.”

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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