Europe

Alexandre Benalla: Row over sacked Macron aide's Africa trip

This file photo taken on July 16, 2018 shows Elysee senior security officer Alexandre Benalla standing next to a bus and the plane transporting the France"s national football team at the Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport on the outskirts of Paris Image copyright AFP
Image caption Alexandre Benalla played an important role during Mr Macron's presidential campaign and then at the Elysée palace

A sacked aide to French President Emmanuel Macron has been officially rebuked for a business trip to Chad.

It emerged this week that Alexandre Benalla had met Chad's leader, three weeks before Mr Macron paid a Christmas visit to troops stationed there.

The Elysée has responded by warning Mr Benalla against claiming "any link with or tacit support from the presidency".

In July Mr Benalla, then a top security aide, was sacked after a video emerged of him beating up protesters in Paris.

He has issued a statement insisting his trip to Chad was part of a "foreign business delegation".

Who is Benalla?

The 27-year-old is being investigated for assault and "usurping the functions of a police officer" over the incident, which took place during May Day demonstrations.

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Media captionStudent activist Taha Bouhafs filmed a woman and a man being beaten on 1 May

After working for Mr Macron during his presidential campaign, he rose through the ranks of the Elysée where he continued working for the new president.

Although he was given a two-week suspension for his part in the May Day incident, he was still playing a key security role in July.

When France's World Cup-winning footballers returned from Russia it was Alexandre Benalla who stood at the front of the team bus as it made its way to the Elysée palace.

He was fired days later and appeared before the French Senate in September, admitting he often carried a Glock pistol as part of his job.

What has happened now?

The latest controversy centres on a trip which, according to Le Monde newspaper, took Mr Benalla first to Cameroon, and then to Chad. Mr Benalla is said have discussed business deals in both countries.

In Chad he is alleged to have met President Idriss Deby and his brother who, the newspaper says, is in charge of military procurements.

Le Monde says Mr Benalla has in recent months been working for a French-Israeli businessman with interests in Africa.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Benalla was regularly seen in public at the president's side until mid-July

The two men had already travelled together to the Republic of Congo in October, the paper reports.

The Elysée reacted to Mr Benalla's December visit to Chad with a strongly worded letter of warning.

"With regard to your current personal activities, we ask you to ensure they are conducted with strict respect for the confidentiality and ethical responsibilities of your time in this office," wrote Patrick Strzoda, the director of Mr Macron's office.

In a later public statement, Mr Strzoda said of the former aide: "He is not a formal or informal envoy of the presidency. If he claimed to be, that would be false."

How has Benalla reacted?

The former aide responded by saying he was "shocked" by the "irresponsible suggestions coming from the Elysée" and insisted he had never represented himself as anything other than a private investor.

Maintaining he had been wronged with defamatory and slanderous accusations, Mr Benalla said some members of the president's entourage were trying to wreck his private and professional life. "I won't stay silent any longer," he said.

In a separate, unconfirmed report on Thursday, the Mediapart investigative website said that in recent months Mr Benalla had been travelling on a diplomatic passport issued in May.

A French foreign ministry spokeswoman confirmed that two diplomatic passports had been issued to Mr Benalla and that it had asked him to return them after his dismissal in July.

"Any use of these passports since would have been despite the commitments made by the interested party," the spokeswoman told AFP news agency.

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