PARIS (AFP) - One of President Emmanuel Macron's top security officers was at the centre of a potentially damaging scandal for the French leader on Wednesday (July 18) after being filmed hitting a protester.
Le Monde newspaper published a video showing Mr Alexandre Benalla hitting and then stamping on a young man while wearing a police visor during a demonstration in central Paris on May 1.
Mr Benalla, who is not a policeman and previously worked as bodyguard, had been given permission to "observe police operations" during a day-off on the May 1 public holiday, Mr Macron's office said.
The presidential palace added that Mr Benalla had been suspended for two weeks after the incident came to light and had been transferred out of his job, which was organising security for Mr Macron's trips.
"This sanction was to punish unacceptable behaviour and it was a final warning before being sacked," presidential spokesman Bruni Roger-Petit told reporters.
Prosecutors in Paris opened a probe on Thursday into possible charges of violence by a public official pretending to be a policeman and the illegal use of police insignia.
Mr Benalla was a popular and ever-present member of Mr Macron's campaign team, usually found several steps behind the then-candidate, and transferred to the presidential staff in May 2017.
Opposition MPs immediately suggested there had been a cover-up and questioned why the incident had not been referred to the police when it came to light in May.
Socialist Party leader Olivier Faure said there was a "a double standard" in how Mr Benalla had been treated compared to any ordinary French citizen.
Mr Alexis Corbiere, an MP for the hard-left France Unbowed party, said Mr Benalla "deserves to be punished with a prison sentence, at least a suspended sentence and with very heavy sanctions".
Supporters of Mr Macron claimed that the punishment handed down to Mr Benalla - suspension without pay for two weeks and a transfer to an administrative job - was appropriate.
"Someone was found to have unacceptable behaviour and there was a sanction," Social Cohesion Minister Julien Denormandie said on France Inter on Thursday, without naming Mr Benalla.
"It was immediate... meaning a suspension and a job change."
Mr Richard Ferrand, a senior MP from Mr Macron's party and top figure in the campaign team, said "it was not a close aide, it's someone who was responsible for security of the president during the election campaign and then joined the Elysee."
Mr Benalla was suspended from May 4-19.