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Sacked aide contradicts French presidency on Macron contacts

Gonzalo Fuentes, Reuters | Alexandre Benalla pictured with French President Emmanuel Macron in April 2018.

Emmanuel Macron's disgraced former security advisor said on Monday he continued to exchange messages regularly with the French president even after he was sacked in the summer for violent conduct, a claim dismissed by the Elysée Palace.

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Alexandre Benalla, a former campaign bodyguard who got a senior job following Macron's election victory last year, has been dogged by scandal since July when accusations emerged he had roughed up protestors while wearing a police helmet.

He was at the centre of more embarrassing headlines for Macron last week when it emerged he had retained his diplomatic passports even after losing his job.

In an interview with investigative website Mediapart, Benalla said Sunday that he continued giving advice to the 41-year-old president via the Telegram messaging app, which the president uses intensively.

"We exchange messages on lots of different subjects. It's often like, 'how do you see things'. It could be about the 'yellow vests', the views on someone or security issues," Benalla said.

The 27-year-old former bouncer began working as a bodyguard for Macron during his campaign for the presidency in 2016 before being promoted to a senior security role in the presidential palace in May 2017.

Benalla's role and the ties between the two men have been the focus of intense media scrutiny and the latest comments undermine efforts by Macron to distance himself publicly.

The French presidency was quick to hit back on Monday, accusing the former bodyguard of spinning "a web of untruths and approximations" in order to gain "revenge" on his former employer.

Talks with African leaders

Benalla admitted visiting around a dozen countries in recent months and he said he always gave an account of his trips to the president or his aides.

He met with Chad's President Idriss Deby earlier in December, and Le Monde newspaper has reported that he held talks with the Republic of Congo's President Denis Sassou-Nguesso, as well as top officials in Cameroon.

"I explain that I've seen so and so and what was said. Afterwards they can do what they like with it," Benalla told Mediapart.

He added, however, that since the revelations about his diplomatic passport emerged "the link has been cut" with the presidency.

The year in review: Emmanuel Macron's rollercoaster 2018

Last Tuesday, the French presidency said that Benalla was "not an official or unofficial emissary".

But Benalla denied suggestions from the foreign ministry that he had used his diplomatic passports illegally, something which prosecutors are now examining.

"If they don't want me to use these passports, they could deactivate them," he said.

"When you travel abroad with a diplomatic passport, the French embassy knows when you arrive," he added, in remarks promptly rejected by the foreign ministry.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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