Benalla, Macron’s disgraced former bodyguard, goes on trial for assaulting protesters

President Emmanuel Macron’s former bodyguard goes on trial Monday for assaulting two people during a 2018 protest while posing as a police officer, in an incident that deeply embarrassed France’s newly elected leader.

Macron, who had made integrity in office a cornerstone of his campaign, was forced to fire Alexandre Benalla, now 30, after a video surfaced showing him beating a young man and grabbing a young woman. by the neck at a 2018 May Day protest.

The former doorman wore a police helmet, although he had only been given permission to accompany the security forces as an observer.

But the presidency refrained from denouncing the assault to authorities, and it came to light only after the French daily Le Monde revealed the existence of the video a few months later.

Officials denied the cover-up allegations, but “Benallagate” became the first big test for Macron, who came to the presidency a year earlier with the promise of restoring an “exemplary republic.”

His government survived two votes of no confidence in parliament, but a Senate investigation panel that questioned Macron’s key advisers found “major flaws” in the administration’s handling of the issue.

Benalla was charged with assault, as well as unauthorized interference in police affairs and wearing police insignia.

He claims that he acted “on reflex” to help officers arrest rebel protesters.

Also on trial is Benalla’s friend Vincent Crase, the former security chief of Macron’s centrist party, who was also filmed mistreating protesters at the rally.

Two police officers, accused of illegally providing Benalla with surveillance footage in an attempt to claim his actions were justified, will also be in the dock.

Benalla’s attorney declined to comment before the trial.

“Detaining someone who is committing a crime is not punishable by law,” Crase’s lawyer Christian Saint-Palais told AFP, saying his client reacted “spontaneously.”

From confidant to responsibility

Benalla began working as Macron’s bodyguard in 2016 during what many viewed as his bid for the presidency, winning over the politician and his wife Brigitte with his boundless energy.

He was promoted to a top security position after Macron’s victory in May 2017, becoming a trusted confidant and right-hand man seen alongside Macron in countless photos.

“He came across as someone who could solve all practical problems very efficiently,” said a former senior campaign official.

“I thought of everything, it was our Swiss Army knife.”

It also secured benefits generally reserved for top administration officials, including an apartment near the Elysee Palace and access to the National Assembly and its private gym and library.

After the scandal broke, Benalla also admitted to carrying a pistol during outings with Macron, even though he was only allowed to keep it inside Macron’s party headquarters, where he was nicknamed “Rambo.”

However, it is unclear how the young man from a working-class neighborhood of Evreux, a sleepy Normandy town, seized the police helmet he is seen wearing during the May Day assault.

Benalla also gave Macron headaches after his dismissal.

Investigators found that he was still using diplomatic passports for travel to Africa and Israel, where he was trying to create a consulting business.

He is suspected of using false documents to obtain one of the passports, a charge he has denied.

Benalla will also face a charge of illegally carrying a weapon, based on a photo of him in a restaurant that appears to show him with a Glock.

Said it was a squirt gun.

(AFP)

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