Macron aides summoned for questioning in Benalla affair

Paris (AFP) –


Three close aides to French President Emmanuel Macron have been summoned for questioning as part of a wide-ranging probe into a scandal involving Macron's former bodyguard Alexandre Benalla, the president's office said Thursday.

Macron's chief of staff Alexis Kohler and cabinet chief Patrick Strzoda were summoned as witnesses in the investigation into Benalla's continued use of his diplomatic passports last year after being fired over a video in which he was seen roughing up protesters.

Another official in the presidency, Francois-Xavier Lauch, was summoned as a civil plantiff in the case.

The so-called Benalla affair was the first major scandal of Macron's presidency.

The 41-year-old leader was accused of betraying his campaign promise of an "exemplary republic" after it emerged that he had known about Benalla's actions and let him off with a mere two-week suspension.

The presidency also initially held off reporting Benalla to the authorities.

Benalla was only fired and placed under investigation after Le Monde newspaper broke the story in July 2018.

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 following Macron's election in May 2017.

He was given leave by the presidency to attend the May Day protest in an observer capacity but waded into the fray wearing a police helmet, grabbing a female demonstrator by the neck and hitting a male demonstrator.

The affair has continued to make headlines in recent months.

Revelations that Benalla continued to travel on his diplomatic passports, using them to travel to Africa for meetings with dignitaries including Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno, caused further outrage in December.

The presidency said it was not informed about Benalla's Africa trip ahead of time and that it believed Benalla had obtained a service passport due to forgery.

A French Senate commission of inquiry found "major flaws" in the government's handling of the affair and said it suspected Macron's aides of trying to cover up some of the details.

The Senate recommended that Strzoda be investigated for perjury over his testimony to the commission and said it suspected Kohler and the presidency's security chief Lionel Lavergne had withheld information.