Alexandre Benalla, who turned from a trusted confidante of Emmanuel Macron into a serious liability for his presidency, is standing before a court on charges related to assault of protesters, an episode that sank his career.
Benalla is one of four people, whose trial at the Paris Criminal Court begins on Monday, in a case that became a major embarrassment for the Elysee Palace and overshadowed the first part of Macron’s presidency.
During the May Day protests in 2018, Benalla was filmed in Place de la Contrescarpe square tackling two activists, a man and a woman, while wearing some elements of a police uniform. The incident did not become public knowledge for months, until the French daily Le Monde revealed the existence of the damning phone video.
Once released, the footage quickly went viral, as accusations of a cover-up pounded the president’s office. Macron’s government survived two non-confidence votes in Parliament, but a Senate investigation into the so-called ‘Benallagate’ reported “major flaws” in the handling of the affair, calling it “disastrous” for the presidency.
The former Macron aide is accused of illegally using violence against protesters on May 1 – in the episode shown in the viral video and in a separate incident at the Jardin des Plantes garden a few hours earlier – and of interfering with police action while doing so. He was also charged with unlawful use of police insignia. Benalla was wearing a police helmet and armband when he was tackling protesters. He was supposed to be present at the protest as an observer.
Standing in the dock with him is another disgraced former Macron associate, Vincent Crase, who used to head security for Macron’s En Marche! party. He is accused of participating in Benalla’s attacks against protesters. The defense’s plan is to say that their actions were justified by part of the Criminal Procedure Code, which allows citizens witnessing a crime to assist law enforcement in apprehending the perpetrator, according to French media.
Two other people on trial are police officials, who are accused of illegally sending Benalla surveillance footage, which he reportedly wanted to use as part of his defense.
Benalla, now 30, once was a trusted problem-fixer for Macron, but ironically he remained a liability for the president even after being sacked in July 2018 amid the scandal. As a private citizen, he allegedly continued to use diplomatic passports for trips to several African nations and Israel, an accusation that the trial will review too. He is suspected of using falsified documents to obtain one of the passports.
Another alleged crime Benalla stands accused of is illegally carrying a firearm in public. In 2017 after a campaign rally, he was photographed at a restaurant carrying what appeared to be a Glock handgun. He did have a gun permit at the time, but it only allowed him to carry inside the headquarters of En Marche! Benalla first claimed the image had been altered, but later said the object was a water gun toy.
Separately, Benalla is being investigated for allegedly obstructing justice during the investigation of ‘Benallagate’ and giving false statements to the Senate. He is also reportedly suspected of corruption in a security case involving himself, Crase, and Uzbek-Russian metals magnate Iskander Makhmudov.
The trial of Benalla starts as France is gearing up for next year’s presidential election. Opinion polls project that the incumbent president will have a narrow second round face off against Le Pen, similar to what happened during the 2017 election cycle.
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