Macron ex-bodyguard at centre of scandal to testify in public next week

File picture shows French President Emmanuel Macron and Elysee senior security officer Alexandre Benalla arriving at an elementary school in Berd’huis, France, April 12, 2018. — Reuters pic
File picture shows French President Emmanuel Macron and Elysee senior security officer Alexandre Benalla arriving at an elementary school in Berd’huis, France, April 12, 2018. — Reuters pic

PARIS, Sept 12 — The former bodyguard whose violent conduct plunged French President Emmanuel Macron into his biggest political crisis this summer agreed reluctantly to face questioning by senators as their hearings resumed today.

Alexandre Benalla, 26, is under criminal investigation after being filmed beating a May Day protester. The scandal brought the sharpest criticism Macron has faced since taking power 16 months ago, prompting the president to fire Benalla, his closest bodyguard, and shake up his office.

The prospect of Benalla’s public grilling on Sept. 19 will keep the saga in the public eye just as Macron tries to inject new life into his presidency amid a slump in popularity and economic headwinds.

Benalla had feared placing himself in legal jeopardy and only agreed to testify before the upper house’s investigating committee late yesterday after being told that he risked two years in prison and a €7,500 (approx. RM36,000) fine if he refused.

“To avoid the legal risks I am threatened with, I am forced to appear before this committee,” Benalla said in a statement.

The scandal, which was dismissed by Macron as a “storm in a teacup”, has reinforced the perception among many French people of a haughty president and undermined his claim of building an “exemplary Republic”.

A poll published by Odoxa yesterday had Macron’s popularity sinking 12 points between June and September, to a record low of 29 per cent for his presidency. Its findings echo other surveys.

Senators from the opposition-controlled chamber resumed quizzing senior officials in Macron’s office today.

The lower house’s own investigation, controlled by Macron’s party, was disbanded in August after opposition MPs objected to its chairwoman’s decision not to interview Macron’s chief of staff. — Reuters

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