Who's Who in France's Benalla affair
One week into Franceâs Benalla scandal and as witnesses continue to appear for inquiries in both houses of parliament, FRANCE 24 looks at key players in the toughest crisis of Emmanuel Macronâs presidency so far.
Alexandre Benalla, the 26-year-old at the heart of the scandal, grew up in a working-class district of Ãvreux, in Normandy. After work as a doorman at a bar in nearby Rouen, the young rugby player and member of the youth wing of the Socialist Party was hired as security personnel for the party in 2010. Assigned to protect Socialist leader Martine Aubry during the 2011 Socialist Party primaries ahead of the 2012 presidential election, Benalla was a member of 2012 Socialist candidate FranÃ§ois Hollandeâs presidential campaign security team. Ahead of the 2017 election, he would join former Hollande aide and ex-Economy Minister Emmanuel Macronâs campaign security staff, becoming the candidateâs closest bodyguard.
After the May Day incident came to light last week â" and once it transpired Benalla had obtained videosurveillance of the incident that he was not authorised to have â" the ÃlysÃ©e Palace fired him. Placed under formal investigation over the incident on counts of group violence, interference in public service, the illegal wearing of a police badge and complicity in the unauthorised use of surveillance footage, Benalla could face up to three years in jail and a â¬45,000 fine should the case go to t rial.
The couple that Benalla was filmed manhandling on May 1 have not yet spoken publicly. âThey donât particularly want to be dragged into the media and political fracas. The Benalla affair does not concern them,â their lawyer, Sahand Saber, told Le Monde, describing his clients as socially integrated young people, just under 30, who both hold jobs. âThey were onlookers, passersby who wanted to have a drink and take part in a demonstration. They wanted to see what a CRS [riot police] charge looked like. But the CRS charge fell upon them,â Saber said. A separate video from another angle that came to light more recently shows the couple hurling projectiles at police, including a glass water jug the man plucked from a Place de la Contrescarpe cafÃ© table. âAn impulsive, unthinking reaction,â their lawyer concedes. The pair has said they are reserving their first statements on the case for its investigating magistrate.
< strong>Vincent Crase, the employee of Macronâs La RÃ©publique en Marche party and a close associate of Benallaâs, appears alongside the ÃlysÃ©e aide in the compromising May Day video, a bald man in his 40s wearing a grey jacket. A reservist gendarme, Crase worked alongside Benalla during Macronâs presidential bid and, after Macronâs election, had occasionally handled security assignments for the ÃlysÃ©e Palace while working at the partyâs headquarters. Shown manhandling protesters on the Place de la Contrescarpe, despite his apparent presence as a mere observer, he was placed under formal investigation on Sunday for group violence, interference in public service and prohibited carrying of a weapon. The ÃlysÃ©e announced on July 19, after Le Monde broke the Benalla scandal, that it was putting an end to any collaboration with Crase.
The ÃlysÃ©e staffers
Patrick Strzoda, Macronâs Ch ief of Staff, a respected 66-year-old career public servant who has held similar roles for a prime minister and an interior minister, authorised Benalla to âobserveâ law enforcement on May Day. After the incident, it was Strzoda who signed the letter informing Benalla of his 15-day suspension for âmanifestly inappropriate behaviourâ and warning that another lapse see him fired.
Questioned by lower-house lawmakers on Tuesday, Strzoda told the inquiry he decided on the punishment âaloneâ, saying he didnât speak directly with Macron, who was travelling in Australia at the time, and took responsibility for it. âIf I had misjudged or made a mistake, I would have been told so,â he nevertheless said after the two-hour hearing. Strzoda defended his decision not to inform the public prosecutor of Benallaâs conduct -- as the law stipulates a public servant does when he learns of criminal activity -- citing lack of evidence and the fact the alleged victims hadnât pr essed charges.
While pundits speculated Strzoda might take the fall for the Benalla affair, Macronâs buck-stops-here remarks on Tuesday evening appear to augur otherwise. âThe only person responsible for this affair is me,â the president told his lawmakers from his party at a gathering. âIf they are looking for someone to hold responsible, heâs right in front of you. They can come and get me,â Macron said.
Alexis Kohler, the secretary general of the ÃlysÃ©e Palace, its highest ranking staffer and Macronâs closest associate, is due to speak publicly about the affair for the first time on Thursday morning, when he is questioned by the French Senateâs Law Commission in the course of its inquiry. It was the 45-year-old Kohler who informed Macron of Benallaâs punishment, as levied by Strzoda, while the president was travelling in Australia. Macron has charged his secretary general with the task of reorganising ÃlysÃ©e staff to fix what he called the âdysfunctionâ at the ÃlysÃ©e since May 1 âso that it cannot happen againâ.
Three police officers were suspended last week before being placed under formal investigation, charged in relation to having extracted and passed along videosurveillance footage of the May Day incident to Benalla and violating professional secrecy. Le Monde, which broke the Benalla affair, has named them as Laurent Simonin, a controller general at Paris police headquarters, Police Superintendent Maxence Creusat and Commander Jean-Yves Hunault.
In testimony before the National Assemblyâs inquiry, other police figures have said it was Simonin who authorised Benalla to shadow officers on May Day without informing his superiors that he had done so. He is also said to have provided Benalla with the police helmet and visor seen in the video.
Paris Police Ch ief Michel Delpuech appeared before the National Assemblyâs commission of inquiry on Monday. The 65-year-old police prefect said he had not been informed beforehand that Benalla would be in the field observing law enforcement on May 1 and only learned of the compromising video from an ÃlysÃ©e staffer the next morning -- despite having crossed paths with Benalla on the night of the demonstrations at a police prefecture debrief of May Day operations.
Delpuech told lawmakers on Monday he contacted the interior ministry upon learning of the footage and was told the ministry was already liaising with Macronâs office. âTo me, it was established that the Benalla issue was being handled by the hierarchical authority that he was answerable to,â the prefect told lawmakers.
In his testimony, Delpuech reserved harsh language for the police officers suspended and charged in the Benalla case. âThis affairâ¦ is obviously not without consequence for the police prefecture,â Parisâs chief of police said. âFundamentally, these events are the result of unacceptable, reprehensible individual lapses against a backdrop of unhealthy cronyism.â
The Interior Ministry
Interior Minister GÃ©rard Collomb gave testimony before the National Assemblyâs commission of inquiry on Monday, saying he learned of the initial Benalla footage after lunch on May 2 from his staff, who had learned about it from the ÃlysÃ©eâs social media specialist. Collomb, a former Socialist who threw his support behind Macronâs rogue presidential bid early on, said he trusted that police headquarters and the ÃlysÃ©e Palace had all the information needed to take action and that, he told lawmakers, âIt was up to them to respond.â Collomb said it was his number two, Staff Director StÃ©phane Fratacci, who informed him of the footage and Fratacci who told him the palace was p lanning disciplinary action against its employee. Fratacci has also been heard by National Assembly lawmakers for their inquiry.
Collomb finally referred the case to the Inspection GÃ©nÃ©rale de la Police Nationale (IGPN), the disciplinary body that looks into alleged police wrongdoing, on July 19, the day after Le Monde exposed the story, and not when he initially became aware of Benallaâs conduct. The 71-year-old former mayor of Lyon defended that timing, saying new footage had come to light showing Benalla with a police armband and radio that justified the referral.
The IGPN report is due to be released âon Thursday or Fridayâ, according to its director, Marie-France MonÃ©ger-Guyomarcâh, herself questioned by lawmakers on Tuesday.
Date created : 2018-07-25Source: Google News France< /a> | Netizen 24 France