Ex-Macron bodyguard Alexandre Benalla in custody over use of diplomatic passports

Benalla at a press conference on Paris in September 2018.
Benalla at a press conference on Paris in September 2018.PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (AFP) - A former bodyguard for French President Emmanuel Macron was taken into police custody on Thursday (Jan 17) over his continued use of diplomatic passports after he was fired for roughing up protesters, prosecutors said.

Alexandre Benalla was a security official and a member of Macron's inner circle before his dismissal last summer after a video emerged of him assaulting protesters at a May Day demonstration while wearing a police helmet.

The video, and claims that Macron's office tried to cover up the affair, caused a political storm that severely dented the president's popularity.

Benalla was eventually sacked on Aug 1, and he has since been charged with assault and impersonating a police officer.

But the 27-year-old returned to the headlines recently after it emerged he had retained several diplomatic passports even after losing his job.

In particular, he used them to travel to Africa to meet with top officials in what some officials fear was an attempt to profit from his former insider status.

Police opened an investigation into suspected abuse of trust and illegal use of professional documents, and a senate hearing renewed its hearings this week of government officials, including Macron's office director Patrick Strzoda.

 
 

On Wednesday, Benalla was further charged with "forgery, using false documentation, and obtaining an administrative document under false pretences", prosecutors said.

Benalla has claimed that he returned the passports shortly after being fired, but that they were handed back to him by a "presidential aide" in October.

He is also suspected of having kept a government-issued cellphone with special encryption capabilities.

The former bouncer began working as a bodyguard for Macron during his election campaign in 2016 before being promoted to a senior security role in the presidential palace in May 2017.