France - Benalla trial

Macron's ex-bodyguard Benalla in court on charges of assaulting protesters

The scandal over Benalla (R) is the most damaging since Macron (L) took office over a year ago
The scandal over Benalla (R) is the most damaging since Macron (L) took office over a year ago AFP/File

The trial of Alexandre Benalla, French President Emmanuel Macron’s former bodyguard, began on Monday in Paris. He is charged with assaulting two young demonstrators during an anti-capitalist protest in 2018, an incident that caused deep embarrassment for a president who promised an "exemplary republic."

Advertising

Benalla, 30, sat in the courtroom with co-defendants Vincent Crase, 48, former employee of En Marche, Macron’s party, along with two police officers.

The former bodyguard was identified by the newspaper Le Monde in a video taken in 2018 during a day of demonstrations in Paris. He appeared in a police helmet on Place de la Contrescarpe, even though he was tasked to observe the demonstration as a member of Macron’s security service.

After this revelation in the paper, he was put on 15-day suspension, but kept his office at the Elysee Palace, the paper reported.

The story led to a judicial inquiry after outcry from the opposition. It was only the beginning of the lengthy probe into Benalla’s behavior and actual position in the presidency—in all, a total of six judicial inquiries were conducted, including one that was closed.

Even after Benalla was fired, he said he kept in close contact with Macron.

The couple who were assaulted at La Contrescarpe, said that they had been caught ‘by chance’ in the middle of the clashes, but were sentenced and fined €500 in February 2019 for throwing projectiles at police, an accusation they rejected at their trial.

Both Benalla and co-defendant Crase, a former gendarme, will need to account for the violence meted out against the couple, but will also need to account for allegedly attacking three demonstrators two hours earlier at Jardin des Plantes.

The couple and the three demonstrators at Jardin des Plantes were present Monday at the opening of the trial.

"My client was arrested, violently brought to the ground, held with his face in the sand, the knee of one of his attackers on his neck, threatened with a baton and placed in police custody for nearly 48 hours, without any reason," said Nadja Diaz, lawyer of one of those attacked, before the hearing.  

In reference to the attacks, Benalla has gone on the record to call them "necessary gestures" and not a "beating, maintaining he had a "citizen reflex" by "questioning "of "attackers of police officers".

"Mistakes were obviously made by me, that's for sure, but it still seems that my back is very broad. And I am far from being the only one responsible for this mess,” he wrote in a book in 2019 about the incidents.

Possession of passports

Although both Benalla and Crase are being tried together for the demonstration attacks, Benalla alone must answer to charges of possessing two diplomatic passports after he was dismissed from Elysee Palace.

The former bodyguard also used a diplomatic passport on trips to Chad and Israel as part of his re-training in private security work.

He is also suspected of forging documents to get the passport. Benalla denies the charge.

He is also charged with carrying an unauthorized weapon in Poitiers, France, in 2017, during Macron’s presidential campaign, which he shrugged off, calling the pistol probably a “water gun.”

Benalla faces up to seven years in prison and a €100,000 fine.

Two police unions, the former chief of staff of the Élysée, François-Xavier Lauch, and journalist Taha Bouhafs, the author of the video of May 1, were also present at the trial.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning

Keep up to date with international news by downloading the RFI app