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France president’s ex-bodyguard sentenced for assaulting demonstrators

November 6, 2021 People's Journal 244 views

AFP— President Emmanuel Macron’s former bodyguard received a three-year sentence on Friday for assaulting two young demonstrators during an anti-capitalist protest in 2018, an incident that caused deep embarrassment for the president.

Alexandre Benalla — who will not see the inside of a prison after the court suspended two of the three years and ordered him to wear an electronic bracelet for one year — was also convicted of faking documents and illegally carrying a firearm.

Macron, who had made integrity in office a cornerstone of his 2017 election campaign, fired Benalla after a video emerged showing him striking a young man and grabbing a young woman by the neck at a May Day protest in Paris.

The former bouncer, now aged 30, was wearing a police helmet, even though he had only been given leave to attend the protest as an observer.

“Benallagate” ballooned into the first major test for Macron’s presidency, which was accused of a cover-up for failing to report Benalla to the police until French daily Le Monde revealed the existence of the video two months after the incident.

Benalla denied the charges at his trial, saying he had acted “by reflex” to help officers arrest unruly protesters.

Benalla started working as a bodyguard for Macron in 2016 and was promoted to a senior security role after Macron’s May 2017 victory, becoming a trusted confidant and right-hand man seen at Macron’s side in countless photos.

After the scandal broke, Benalla also admitted carrying a handgun during outings with Macron, even though he was only authorised to have it within Macron’s party headquarters, where he was nicknamed “Rambo”.

Investigators found that he continued to use diplomatic passports for trips to Africa and Israel, where he was trying to build up a consulting business.

He was also found guilty of using faked documents to obtain one of the passports.

Reading out the verdict, presiding judge Isabelle Prevost-Desprez said that Benalla seemed to believe he could act with “impunity” and “felt all-powerful” during and after his work for the president.

“You were given a certain power, that was real as far as your job went, and assumed because you were close to the president,” she said. “You betrayed the trust that you were granted through this appointment.”

A former senior campaign official described Benalla “as someone who could fix all the practical problems very efficiently. He thought of everything, he was our Swiss Army knife.”

He also secured perks usually reserved for top administration officials, including an apartment near the Elysee Palace and access to the National Assembly and its private gym and library.

Macron’s government survived two no-confidence votes in parliament following the scandal, but a Senate investigative panel that questioned key Macron aides found “major flaws” in the administration’s handling of the affair.

Friday’s sentence was harsher than the punishment requested by prosecutors who had asked for an 18-month suspended prison term for Benalla during his trial in September.