PARIS (AP) — A French judge handed preliminary charges Sunday to one of President Emmanuel Macron’s top security aides after video surfaced that showed him beating a protester at a May Day demonstration.
The initial charges against Alexandre Benalla came the same day French authorities opened a judicial investigation of the assault. The multiple alleged offenses included violence, interfering in the exercise of public office and the unauthorized public display of official insignia.
The video made public by Le Monde newspaper on Wednesday has sparked the first major political crisis for Macron since he took office last year. Lawmakers and the president’s political opponents have questioned why Benalla was not fired and referred for prosecution when presidential officials learned about the beating months ago.
The recording shows Benalla, who is not a police officer, wearing a police helmet at the May 1 protest. Surrounded by riot police, he brutally dragged a woman from the crowd and then repeatedly beat a young male protester on the ground.
The man was heard begging Benalla to stop. The officers did not intervene.
Four others were also charged Sunday night: Vincent Crase, who worked for Macron’s party and was with Benalla on the day of the protest, and three police officers who were suspected of illegally passing footage from the event to Benalla.
Crase was handed preliminary charges of violence and prohibited possession of a weapon.
Benalla, 26, handled Macron’s campaign security and remained close to France’s youngest president after his election. The presidential palace initiated proceedings to fire Benalla Friday and investigators raided his house Saturday.
Macron’s office has said Benalla only was supposed to be accompanying officers to the May protest as an observer.
However, the president’s office has been heavily criticized since it revealed that it knew about the assault before last week. Macron pledged as a candidate to restore integrity and transparency to the presidency.
Lawmakers were aghast to learn that Benalla initially received only a two-week suspension and still had an office in the presidential palace 2 1/2 months after the beating.
Suspicion about a possible cover-up surfaced after what appeared to be inconsistent answers from Macron’s office. It said last week that since May, Benalla had been working in an administrative role instead of security. But Benalla was photographed by the president’s side as his bodyguard during France’s July 14 national holiday.
Macron’s political adversaries have seized the opportunity. Les Republicans party leader Laurent Wauquiez said the government was “trying to conceal a matter of state”.
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen tweeted: “If Macron doesn’t explain himself, the Benalla affair will become the Macron affair.”
Macron has remained silent about the behavior captured on video. Lawmakers plan to question Interior Minister Gerard Collomb this week.
(Copyright (c) 2020 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)