Macron's Top Aides Face Possible Probe in Bodyguard Scandal
(Bloomberg) -- Pressure on Emmanuel Macron’s top three aides intensified after a French Senate committee recommended a probe, saying the officials may have misled lawmakers while testifying under oath in a scandal about the president’s rogue bodyguard.
Citing “withholding, incoherence and contradictions,” a parliamentary investigation committee recommended that the president of the Senate ask the prosecutor’s office to conduct an inquiry into chief of staff Alexis Kohler, head of staff Patrick Strzoda and head of security services Colonel Lionel Lavergne.
Paris prosecutors opened a probe on Feb. 15 to uncover any efforts to suppress the “truth” about the bodyguard case, which could include testimony to Parliament. The inquiry could include anyone involved in the issue, the office said without specifying individuals.
The new probe brings the scandal even closer to the French leader, who has been under fire since Le Monde newspaper revealed that his private bodyguard Alexandre Benalla beat demonstrators at a May Day protest. Macron, in concert with his staff, covered up the incident for weeks and later defended Benalla before firing him in July. Shortly after the scandal, Macron tempted critics to “come get him.”
The committee, which held hearings on the issue last year, said it believes the officials “withheld a significant part of the truth at the commission, notably on the scope of Alexandre Benalla’s security mission,” Jean-Pierre Sueur, co-head of the commission, told reporters in Paris on Wednesday.
While the presidential palace couldn’t and wouldn’t interfere with any investigations, Macron’s office will outline “inaccuracies” in the Senate report in coming days, French government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said.
Macron has recently sought to distance himself from the issue following reports that Benalla was continuing to travel on a diplomatic passport issued by the presidential palace. Macron’s closest aide, Ismael Emelien, announced his resignation last week, leaving partially because of the growing scrutiny related to his involvement in the affair.
Benalla has been under arrest since Feb. 19 for breaching legal obligations related to the investigation.
The Senate committee cited “major dysfunctions” in how the president’s palace operates, and asked Macron’s office to make its organization “more transparent.” It also recommended reforms to the presidential security services to put an end to the use of unofficial agents with “excessive powers.”
The “Benalla affair” was the first crisis in Macron’s presidency and fed into negative sentiment about his governing style. The dissatisfaction has fueled the ongoing demonstrations by France’s Yellow Vests protesters angry about the rising cost of living.
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