Macron security aide scandal deepens with minister under fire

Sunday, July 22, 2018

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PARIS, France (AFP) — The most damaging scandal of Emmanuel Macron's presidency deepened yesterday with his interior minister due to face a grilling in Parliament over his response to a top security aide of Macron caught on video beating up a young man at a Paris protest in May.

Opposition lawmakers have demanded that Macron, who has so far remained silent about the incident, explain the Government's stand after the videos of his aide Alexandre Benalla emerged last week.

“If Macron doesn't explain himself, the Benalla affair will become the Macron affair,” far-right leader Marine Le Pen said in a tweet.

Laurent Wauquiez, the head of the Republicans party, accused the Government of “trying to camouflage a matter of state” and said Macron had to clarify the matter to the French people.

And far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon from the France Unbowed party called it a scandal of Watergate proportions and accused Macron of “organising a personal militia”.

Watergate was the name of a dirty tricks scandal that led to the resignation of former US president Richard Nixon in 1974.

Benalla, 26, was initially suspended without pay, but on Friday Macron fired his former security aide, who was taken into custody suspected of unlawfully receiving police surveillance footage in a bid to clear his name.

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb has been heavily criticised over the affair, with some Opposition lawmakers saying his job is on the line after press reports that he knew about Benalla's violence.

Collomb will be publicly questioned from 10:00 am (0800 GMT) on Monday by the Law Commission of the National Assembly, the head of the lower house of Parliament announced.

Also yesterday, three police officers were taken into custody suspected of providing the surveillance footage to Benalla.

They were accused of “misappropriation of images from a video surveillance system”, as well as a “violation of professional secrets”, the prosecutor's office said.

The Paris police prefecture said the footage was “improperly disclosed to a third party on the evening of July 18”, the same night the newspaper Le Monde published the video that sparked the scandal.

That video, shot on a smartphone, showed Benalla wearing a riot police helmet and surrounded by officers, manhandling and striking a protester during a May 1 demonstration.

In a second video published by the newspaper late Thursday, Benalla — who has never been a policeman — is also seen violently wrestling a young woman to the ground during scuffles on a square near the Rue Mouffetard, a picturesque street in the fifth arrondissement.

The three senior officers taken into custody, who belong to the Paris department of public order and traffic, include a deputy chief of staff and a commissioner in the fifth arrondissement, as well as the commander in charge of relations between the prefecture and the Elysee Palace, said several sources close to the case.

Benalla's home in the southwestern suburbs of Paris was raided yesterday.

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