PARIS • The disgraced former bodyguard of French President Emmanuel Macron has admitted he used his diplomatic passports "for personal convenience" after being fired in August, a day after investigators opened a probe into his failure to return the documents.
Mr Alexandre Benalla, a former campaign bodyguard who got a senior job following Mr Macron's election victory in 2017, has been dogged by scandal since July when accusations emerged that he had roughed up protesters.
Mr Macron's office and Mr Benalla clashed this week over claims that he used two diplomatic passports after his dismissal, which the foreign ministry said would be a crime.
Criticism over the presidency's handling of the issue has been growing since local media reported that Mr Benalla met African presidents, in what officials fear was an attempt to profit from his former insider status.
In an interview published on Sunday, Mr Benalla acknowledged using the passports for private travel but said he would return them to the foreign ministry "within days".
"I may have been wrong to use these passports," he told French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche. "But I did it for personal convenience to facilitate my passage through airports. Under no circumstances did I use them for business," he added.
He said he had returned the passports at the end of August, but they were handed back to him along with other personal belongings by a "presidential aide" in October.
"Insofar as they were given back to me, I didn't see any reason not to use them," he told the paper.
Prosecutors last Saturday opened a preliminary investigation for "abuse of trust", the illegal use of professional documents and other charges.
Mr Macron's office said it had no information about the use of Mr Benalla's passports, which it said were assigned only for work in his official capacity.
Mr Benalla was at the centre of a major scandal last year after accusations emerged he had beaten up demonstrators at a May Day rally in Paris while he was wearing a police helmet. He was working for the presidency at the time.
He was not fired until after the media revelations, prompting a wave of accusations from government opponents that Mr Macron's office covered it up.
Mr Benalla has denied boasting of insider influence to win work after his sacking and has accused members of Mr Macron's team of trying to "wreck" his life.
The negative headlines over Mr Benalla come at a sensitive time for Mr Macron, who has seen his popularity plummet during weeks of anti-government protests over some of his economic reforms.