Macron’s former bodyguard denies lying to Senate
French President Emmanuel Macron’s former security aide Alexandre Benalla has denied accusations of lying over possible misuse of diplomatic passports at a Senate Law Commission hearing on Monday.
Benalla said he had "absolutely nothing to hide" over how he came by the passports and how he used them but that he was concerned about the suspicion "that the way they were obtained spawned a criminal act".
Macron’s former security aide was fired in July 2018 following revelations he had received a two-week suspension for beating a protester at a May Day rally.
French authorities have said he was asked to surrender his diplomatic passports when he was sacked.
Benalla 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.
“I returned them in August 2018” and “these passports were then returned to me again, when I had been contacted by a member of the Elysée (...), in early October 2018”, Benalla said.
When asked during the hearing who this person was, he replied he had "already said that I won't answer that question".
He carried on using the passports doing consultancy work in African countries, including Chad.
“I was informed that these passports had not been not disabled, otherwise I wouldn’t have travelled using these passports,” said Benalla.
“I acknowledge a lack of discernment perhaps. It was stupid.”
Benalla, who has said he then used the passports 23 times, was handed preliminary charges last Friday for abusive use of professional documents.
But he was not charged with forgery, an allegation levelled by Macron's chief of staff Patrick Strzoda.
Someone is lying
Several Senators found Benalla's reluctance to reply to key questions frustrating.
“Someone was necessarily lying,” said Senator Marc-Philippe Daubresse (Republicains party). “There are two contradictory theories as to whom handed [Benalla] the passports: Mr Benalla’s thesis and that of the chief of stafff [Strzoda].”
Another senator, Francoise Gatel said Benalla “gave the impression he was avoiding questions” whereas you are under an obligation to reply before the Senate Commission.
The Benalla case is proving an embarrassment for the government.
While it has a majority in the National Assembly, it does not in the Senate. For Jean-Michel Servant writing in Midi Libre, the upper house is showing its teeth.
"Senators are on cloud nine,” wrote Jean-Michel Servant in Tuesday's Midi Libre.
“As Emmanuel Macron desperately tries to escape yellow peril, our dear parliamentarians have set themselves up as defenders of democracy: as a counter weight to this inexperienced executive [which has been] far too indulgent with diplomatic passports.”
Charente Libre wasn’t much kinder.
“Emmanuel Macron spoke of “truth, dignity, and hope” in his New Year address,” wrote Maurice Bontinck. “The Benalla files won’t help him build a climate a trust between the grassroots and elites in France. It’s going in quite the opposite direction after this two-hour hearing.”
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