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French presidential ex-bodyguard could face formal inquiry after arrest

Archive photo: Alexandre Benalla at the Senate in Paris, 19 September 2018
Archive photo: Alexandre Benalla at the Senate in Paris, 19 September 2018 REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Alexandre Benalla, the former top security aide to the French president, has been taken into custody over his use of diplomatic passports after his dismissal for assaulting protestors last May. A Paris court is today to decide whether or not he should undergo formal investigation.

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As well as illegal possession of official documents, Benalla is also accused of forging and using forged papers, as well as "obtaining an administrative document under false pretences", according to prosecutors.

The former bodyguard has claimed that he returned the passports shortly after being let go, but that they were given back to him by an official in the presidency in October.

Senate panel quizzes foreign minister

President Emmanuel Macron's chief of staff, Patrick Strozda told a Senate committee inquiry this week that Benalla had used the travel documents illegally some 20 times since July, when the bodyguard was suspended.

Among his trips, Benalla used the passports in early December to travel to Africa for meetings with top officials, including Chadian President Idriss Deby.

Foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian told the committee that he only learned of the trip in late December, and that the French ambassador to N'Djamena had been aware of Benalla's visit, but didn't think it necessary to report it – a decision Le Drian said was "regrettable".

Socialist senator Patrick Kanner told RFI after the Senate committee's hearing that the government was too slow to respond.

“It’s a major dysfunction, probably sparked by a scandal-monger. I insist that the state is not complicit. But it does show that there are failings in the way the state functions, which allowed this to happen.”

Fall from grace

Benalla has also claimed that he and the head of state have continued to exchange on security issues or current affairs like the gilets jaunes or Yellow Vest protest movement.

Macron's office has in turn accused Benalla of seeking revenge for his sacking by spreading inaccurate information.

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.

The "Benalla affair" caused a political storm that had a negative impact on Macron's popularity ranking, especially amid claims that the top office tried to cover up the affair, and because Macron had promised to restore integrity to the French public office during the 2017 election campaign.

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