FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron walks ahead of his aide Alexandre Benalla at the end of the Bastille Day military parade in Paris, France, July 14, 2018. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/File Photo
July 22, 2018
PARIS (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron’s top bodyguard was placed under investigation on Sunday after he was identified in an amateur video beating a protester on May Day in a case that has sparked a political storm.
Alexandre Benalla, long a fixture at Macron’s side, had been taken into custody for police questioning on Friday.
The prosecutor’s office said on Sunday evening he would now be investigated over group violence, interference in public service and illegal wearing of a police badge along with two other felonies.
Being the target of an investigation in France does not necessarily lead to a trial.
Macron fired Benalla, the head of his personal security detail, on Friday but faced criticism for failing to act sooner.
Le Monde newspaper released a video last week showing Benalla at the May 1 protests in Paris wearing a riot helmet and police tags while off duty.
In the footage, he can be seen dragging a woman away from a protest and later beating a male demonstrator. On Friday, French media released a second video which showed Benalla also manhandling the woman.
Another man who appears with Benalla was also placed under investigation on Sunday along with three other police officers who are suspected of having passed on official video surveillance material earlier this week to Benalla to help him prepare his defense.
Benalla had initially been suspended for 15 days and allowed to return to work. Under pressure, the French presidency said on Friday it had decided to begin dismissal procedures.
Critics of Macron have called the president’s delayed response a characteristic sign that he is out of touch.
Benalla has not commented publicly on the allegations against him.
French media reported that Benalla, 26, had been granted perks by the presidency such as an apartment in a high-class Paris area and a chauffeur-driven car. He had also been given the highest level of security clearance to the lower house of parliament.
Interior Minister Gerard Collomb is to be questioned by members of the national assembly on Monday and by the Senate on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Matthias Blamont, Sophie Louet; Editing by Adrian Croft)