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Former Macron aide Benalla placed under formal investigation over illegal diplomatic passport use

BERTRAND GUAY / AFP | Former Élysée senior security officer Alexandre Benalla appears before a Senate committee as he is quizzed over his close ties to France's leader on September 19, 2018, in Paris.

A former top security aide to French President Emmanuel Macron, who was at the heart of a scandal this summer, was placed under formal investigation Friday with the illegal use of diplomatic passports.

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Alexandre Benalla, 27, was taken into police custody on Thursday after revelations last month that he had continued to travel on a diplomatic passport after being fired in August.

He already faces criminal charges after he was filmed roughing up protesters on May Day last year while wearing a police helmet.

Revelations over the summer that Macron's office knew about that incident but kept Benalla in his job led to furious accusations from political opponents of a presidential cover-up.

In recent weeks it has emerged that Benalla retained two diplomatic and two service passports after losing his job, using them to travel to Africa for meetings with top officials including Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno.

Benalla says he has been working legitimately as a business consultant.

But some officials fear he has been attempting to profit from his former insider status, and last month he received a sharp warning against any breach of confidentiality.

Benalla's lawyer said he was charged at a court hearing Friday with unauthorised use of professional documents.

But he was not charged with forgery, an allegation levelled by Macron's chief of staff Patrick Strzoda.

Benalla has claimed that he returned the passports shortly after his sacking but that they were handed back to him by an official in the presidency in October.

Appearing before a Senate committee probing the affair, Strzoda said Wednesday that Benalla had used his diplomatic passports "some 20 times" over the past six months.

A former bouncer, Benalla began working as a bodyguard for Macron during his election campaign in 2016 before being promoted to a senior security role in the presidential palace in May 2017.

(AFP)

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