‘I was just lending the police a hand,’ says Macron’s ex-security aide

Lawyers for President Emmanuel Macron's ex-security aide have defended his actions after he was caught on camera striking a May Day protester in Paris in a scandal that has rocked the government and prompted accusations of a cover-up.

'I was just lending the police a hand,' says Macron's ex-security aide

Alexandre Benalla — the French presidential bodyguard is at the centre of the biggest scandal yet of Emmanuel Macron's presidency after being caught on camera striking a protester and violently manhandling another woman during a Paris protest on May 1st as French police looked on.

On Monday his lawyers came to his defence for the first time.

Alexandre Benalla “had no vocation to intervene personally in these operations,” the lawyers said.

“However, after witnessing the actions of two particularly troublesome individuals and the fact the operational capacities of the police officers on the scene had been exceeded, Mr. Benalla took the initiative to lend a hand to the police by helping to control these people,” the lawyers added.

This personal initiative… is obviously being used to tarnish the president in circumstances that defy comprehension,” his lawyers said in a statement claiming his acts were being were being exploited for “media and political ends”.

The statement from Benalla's lawyer came after France's interior minister and the Paris police chief defended their responses to a video showing the security aide hitting a May Day protester.

Speaking before a parliamentary commission, both officials said they had learned of the video circulating on social media on May 2, the day after 
Alexandre Benalla beat a young man during a police operation to clear protesters from a Paris square.

“The president's office director (Patrick Strzoda) called me to ask for any news about the Benalla case — I didn't know what he was talking about,” police chief Michel Delpuech told lawmakers.

Asked why he did not report the incident to prosecutors after watching the video, which shows Benalla striking the man at least twice while riot police officers look on, Delpuech said he considered it was up to Macron's office to respond.

But he denounced “unacceptable abuses by individuals” and “cronyism”, apparently a reference to three police officers accused of providing Benalla with surveillance footage so he could try to mount his defence.

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb also said it was up to Benalla's superiors in Macron's office either to inform prosecutors or impose any punishment.

In several videos which have emerged of the police operation, Benalla is seen wearing a police helmet and armband, and Collomb told lawmakers he was also equipped with a police radio.

He said investigators did not know how Benalla obtained the equipment, since he was supposed to be only observing the operation accompanied by an officer.

Delpuech added that investigators were also checking if Benalla and an associate at the scene, Vincent Crase, were armed, confirming that a weapons permit held by Benalla during Macron's presidential campaign had expired.

Both officials said they had not been informed that Benalla and Crase would be attending the protest.

“I was surprised, astonished even, to discover Benalla in the command room” the night of May 1, Delpuech said.

“I was shaking people's hands, and when I came to him I said, 'You're here?' And he answered, 'I was out in the field'.”


Opposition lawmakers have seized on the affair, with some accusing the government of trying to cover up the alleged violence committed by Benalla and Crase, a security agent employed by Macron's Republic on the Move (LREM) party.

Benalla was Macron's closest bodyguard during his campaign, before transferring to the president's security detail in May 2017.

Despite mounting pressure Macron has yet to speak publicly on “Benallagate”, which is swiftly becoming the most damaging scandal since he won the presidency last year promising to restore integrity to government.

He has called off Wednesday's scheduled appearance at the Tour de France cycling race, though aides insist the cancellation was unrelated to the case.

Benalla, 26, was fired Friday after newspaper Le Monde published a smartphone video showing him hitting a man at the protest.

Le Monde later posted another video showing Benalla violently wrestling a young woman to the ground during the scuffles.

The man and woman seen in the videos have come forward and plan to testify, according to a source close to the inquiry.

Both Benalla and Crase were charged Sunday with assault, while Benalla is also charged with impersonating a police officer.

 Parliament revolt 

Benalla was suspended for two weeks without pay in May, but it was not clear why prosecutors were not informed of the video and alleged violence.

“In my opinion it's up to those responsible in their administrations, closest to the facts, to gather any elements which would justify informing prosecutors of an infraction,” Collomb said.

Lawmakers in both houses of parliament are investigating the affair, with Macron's chief of staff Alexis Kohler set to appear at the Senate on Thursday.

The government has been forced to suspend debate on a constitutional reform bill after a revolt by lawmakers, and on Monday parliament said the debate would be postponed until September at the earliest.

Adding to the controversy, Le Monde reported Friday that Benalla had been living free in a luxurious mansion reserved for presidential staff, and had been given a car and driver.

And while the presidency said Benalla had been transferred to an administrative role after the incident, he has nonetheless been seen several times since then in Macron's security detail.

Member comments

  1. He was obviously lending the police a hand but how did he know a hand was going to be needed in time to obtain a police helmet, armband and police radio.

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Top journalist grilled by French intelligence over Macron bodyguard

France's domestic intelligence service on Wednesday questioned a journalist who broke the story of a scandal that shook President Emmanuel Macron, the latest in a growing number of reporters to be quizzed in a trend that has disturbed press freedom activists.

Top journalist grilled by French intelligence over Macron bodyguard
A file photo of Le Monde journalist Ariane Chemin. Photo: Eric Feferberg / AFP
Ariane Chemin, who works for the daily Le Monde, said she was questioned by the General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI) for some 45 minutes in the presence of her lawyer after being summoned last week.
“I explained that I only did my job as a journalist,” she told AFP after the meeting.
She added that she had insisted on her right to protect her sources while carrying out work in the public interest based on a law dating to 1881.
“They asked me many questions on the manner in which I checked my information, which was an indirect way of asking me about my sources,” Chemin said.
Le Monde's managing director Louis Dreyfus was also questioned by the DGSI on Wednesday.
Chemin has written a series of articles over former presidential bodyguard Alexandre Benalla, who was fired last year after he was filmed roughing up a protester in one of the biggest scandals to shake Macron to date.
It was a July 18 article by Chemin that first reported that Benalla had beaten the May Day demonstrator while wearing a police helmet.
The summons stemmed in particular from articles about former air force officer Chokri Wakrim, the partner of Marie-Elodie Poitout, the ex-head of security at the prime minister's office.
Poitout resigned her post after media revelations that she and Wakrim had welcomed Benalla to their home in July but insisted it had only been a social affair.
The Elysee has been accused of covering up the affair by failing to report Benalla to the authorities.
'Only doing her job'
The secret service has already summoned seven reporters who published details over how French arms sold to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were being used in Yemen's civil war, sparking an outcry by press freedom 
The SNJ-CGT union called for a demonstration outside the headquarters of the DGSI on Wednesday “in support of those journalists summoned by the French state in violation of the law on press freedom.”
The association of Le Monde Reporters (SRM) said on their Twitter account that Chemin was simply “bringing to the attention of citizens information that was in the public interest and thus was only doing her job.”
But Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet told the French Senate on Wednesday that the summons should “in no way be seen as an attempt at intimidation or a threat”.
She said the summons for Chemin was issued as part of a preliminary enquiry carried out under the supervision of the Paris prosecutor following a complaint by a special forces member that his identity had been revealed by the paper.
Senior journalists from 37 French media outlets, including Agence France-Presse, Le Figaro daily, France 2 TV and Mediapart, signed a statement supporting the journalists who were questioned over the Yemen controversy, saying they were “just doing their jobs”.
Disclose has pressed ahead with its reporting on the issue, saying on Tuesday that a shipment of munitions for French Caesar cannons would be loaded at a Mediterranean port onto a Saudi ship.