French open judicial probe into beating by Macron aide


PARIS (AP) — French authorities opened a judicial investigation Sunday into the shocking beating of a protester in May by one of President Emmanuel Macron’s top security aides.

The attack by Alexandre Benalla, 26, was caught on camera and is sparking the first major political crisis for the French leader who took office last year.

The Paris prosecutor’s office said Benalla and four others went before a judge Sunday and charges could be brought in the case soon.

Benalla faces possible charges of violence by a public official, illegal use of surveillance video and impersonating a police officer.

A video revealed Wednesday by France’s Le Monde newspaper showed Benalla wearing a police helmet at a May 1 demonstration where the beating happened. Macron’s office has said Benalla only was supposed to be accompanying officers as an observer.

Surrounded by riot police, he brutally dragged a woman from the crowd and then repeatedly beat a young male protester on the ground. The man was heard begging him to stop.

Police, who had hauled the man from the crowd before Benalla took over, didn’t intervene. Benalla then left the scene.

The four others in custody are Vincent Crase, who worked for Macron’s political party and was by Benalla’s side on the day of the attack, as well as three police officers suspected of illegally passing footage of the events to Benalla earlier this week.

The Paris prosecutor’s office added that Benalla, who handled Macron’s security during the 2017 presidential campaign, and Crase are now prohibited to possess a weapon and to work in a public function.

Benalla was fired by the presidential palace Friday and investigators raided his house Saturday.

Macron’s political adversaries have seized the opportunity. Les Republicans party leader Laurent Wauquiez said the government was “trying to conceal a matter of state”.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen tweeted: “If Macron doesn’t explain himself, the Benalla affair will become the Macron affair.”

Macron has remained silent about the behavior captured on video. Lawmakers plan to question Interior Minister Gerard Collomb this week as Macron’s government faces mounting criticism over how it initially disciplined Benalla.

The uproar over Benalla’s earlier punishment — a two-week suspension and a change in responsibilities— upended regular business in parliament. Lawmakers were aghast that Benalla still had an office in the presidential palace 2 ½ months after the beating and that he was not immediately reported to judicial authorities.

Suspicion also has surfaced over what appeared to be inconsistent answers from Macron’s office. It said last week that Benalla was transferred from security affairs to an administrative role since May. But Benalla was photographed by the president’s side during France’s July 14 national holiday.

Copyright 2018. The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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