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Macron's former security aide Benalla detained over misuse of diplomatic passports

Alain Jocard, AFP | Alexandre Benalla at his hearing before the Senate Committee, September 2018.

Alexandre Benalla, French President Emmanuel Macron's embattled former security aide, was detained Thursday in connection with a probe into his alleged misuse of diplomatic passports, Paris prosecutors said.

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French President Emmanuel Macron’s former security officer and deputy chief of staff Alexandre Benalla used diplomatic passports nearly 20 times after his dismissal from the Élysée Palace.

Macron’s chief of staff, Patrick Strzoda, announced the move Wednesday in front of the Senate Law Commission.

“We now know that Mr. Benalla used these passports almost 20 times between August 1, 2018 and December 31,” said Strzoda. “The first use was from August 1 to August 7” and the documents were used again in October, November and December.

The minister of foreign affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, confirmed Wednesday that according to “corroborating evidence”, passports had been used by Benalla “on many occasions and as early as August”.

Media reports shortly before Christmas revealed that Benalla still had diplomatic passports and was travelling on business with African leaders.

According to the newspaper Le Monde, Benalla travelled to N’djamena in Chad on December 5 and 6 with “half a dozen people by private plane”, three weeks before Macron’s official state visit to the country.

Benalla explained that this was a business trip, involving investment projects in Chad with “big bosses from the Middle East”. He then met with Chadian President Idriss Déby for two hours.

Le Drian first learned of Benalla’s trip to Chad on December 24, he told the Senate committee investigating the Benalla case. He then referred the matter to the public prosecutor for the unlawful use of diplomatic passports by the former Élysée adviser.

Ambassador aware of Benalla visit

Le Drian conceded that the French ambassador in N’djamena had been aware of the visit at the time Benalla was in Chad but had not informed his superiors.

“On December 26, I asked our ambassador about this subject. He informed me that he had known of this trip but that he did not consider it necessary to report it,” said Le Drian.

“I consider that there was a lack of appreciation on the part of our ambassador and he has since acknowledged his mistake,” he added without further explanation.

Le Drian said that Benalla had used his diplomatic passport to enter Chad and Israel.

“I have received confirmation from Chad but also from the Israeli authorities that he used his diplomatic passport,” he said.

Le Drian also denied that Benalla could have acted as an intermediary in parallel diplomacy.

“I have informed all our posts, at the request of the president of the Republic, that no one can claim to be anyone’s intermediary,” he added.

Le Drian also pointed out that Benalla’s two diplomatic passports had only been invalidated on December 28, almost two months after an official request, due to an “incompatability” between the computer systems of the two ministries.

The ministry of foreign affairs referred the matter to the Paris Public Prosecutor’s Office, which opened a preliminary investigation on December 29 into Benalla's failure to return his two diplomatic passports.

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