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Macron’s former aide Benalla found guilty of beating up protesters

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A former aide of Emmanuel Macron has been sentenced to home detention and given a suspended prison term after beating up protesters three years ago, an incident that triggered allegations of a cover-up by the French president’s Elysée team.

Alexandre Benalla, who was in charge of ensuring Macron’s security during the 2017 presidential election and then worked for him at the Elysée Palace, was caught on video punching a male protester and tackling a young woman in the fifth arrondissement of Paris during May Day union protests in 2018.

On Friday, Benalla was ordered to spend a year under house arrest with an electronic bracelet and also received a two-year suspended prison sentence.

The then 26-year-old was filmed at the protests in a helmet similar to those worn by riot police. But he dressed in casual clothes, hitting protesters, before leaving after his face was captured on video.

“You betrayed the trust placed in you by your appointment,” said Isabelle Prévost-Desprez, president of the court, at the hearing on Friday, according to AFP.

The magistrate underlined the apparent “impunity” and “omnipotence” of the defendant, who was also found guilty of fraudulently using his diplomatic passports after his dismissal, of having fabricated a false document to obtain a service passport and of illegally carrying a weapon in 2017.

After video of the May Day violence was made public by Le Monde newspaper, Macron initially defended Benalla, saying: “If they want someone to blame, they should come and get me.” 

It then emerged that Macron and his team were aware of the incident but had failed to inform judicial authorities. Benalla had been suspended for two weeks but kept on the payroll before the revelations by Le Monde.

In 2019, the French Senate also condemned “failings at the heart of the state” that led to other scandals involving Benalla, which included his arrangement of private security contracts worth over €1m for oligarchs seen as close to Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president. Senate investigators at the time described the Elysée Palace’s response to Benalla’s misdeeds as “incomprehensibly indulgent”.

Benalla was also fined €500 and prohibited from holding public office for five years. Vincent Crase, a former employee of Macron’s La République en Marche party and an associate of Benalla, was also found to have committed “illegitimate violence” on protesters and received a two-year suspended prison sentence and a €500 fine.

Two police officers were also for sentenced for having handed over video surveillance to Benalla. Maxence Creusat was fined €5,000, and Laurent Simonin was handed a three-month suspended prison term.

Benalla’s lawyer Jacqueline Laffont told BFM TV channel on Friday night that her client would “obviously appeal the judgment”, adding that the verdict was “incredibly severe and totally disproportionate with the facts and requests from the prosecutors.”

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