French Senate refers three of Macron’s aides to public prosecutor

Alexis Kohler

Move marks latest twist in Benalla affair that centres on president’s private bodyguard Alexandre Benalla seen with Emmanuel Macron during the 2017 election campaign

Harriet Agnew in Paris – MARCH 21, 2019

The French Senate has decided to refer three of Emmanuel Macron’s top aides to the public prosecutor, the latest twist in an investigation into the so-called Benalla affair that centres on the president’s private bodyguard.

On Thursday the upper house of the French parliament, which is controlled by the opposition rightwing party Les Republicains, sent the cases of bodyguard Alexandre Benalla, his associate Vincent Crase and Patrick Strzoda, Mr Macron’s chief of staff, to the prosecutor on suspicion of false testimony before the Senate commission of inquiry, according to a statement from the Senate.

The move follows a report last month by the Senate that condemned “failings at the heart of the state” that led to the Benalla scandal last summer. Mr Macron’s favoured bodyguard was fired after video footage emerged of him beating up two protesters during the May Day riots. Mr Macron and his team were aware of the incident but failed to inform judicial authorities, and the affair contributed to a political crisis and a fall in the president’s approval ratings in the second half of last year.

The cases of Alexis Kohler, the Elysée secretary-general and Mr Macron’s most senior adviser, and General Lionel Lavergne, head of the presidential security group, were also sent to prosecutors, the Senate said on Thursday. Senators said they believed there were “a number of omissions, inconsistencies and contradictions” in sworn statements during hearings that were part of the investigation. “

There is a worry about whether this will affect the relationship between the Senate and the president of the republic,” Hervé Marseille, president of the centrist union group in the Senate, said on Thursday. “What matters for the population is not institutional and political matters like this but to find a response to the crisis in France that has shown itself in 18 consecutive weekends of sometimes violent protests.”

The Senate’s decision comes as Mr Macron is pushing through legislation to overhaul France’s parliament, one of his signature proposals during his presidential campaign. The overhaul would reduce the number of seats from 577 to 404 in the National Assembly, the lower house, and from 348 to 243 in the Senate. Gerard Larcher, president of the Senate, has been one of the fiercest critics of the measure.

Stanislas Guerini, the leader of Mr Macron’s La République en Marche party, denounced Thursday’s development as a political move against the Elysée by the opposition. He said in a statement to AFP: “They obviously seek to serve their hidden purpose: to attack the president of the republic.” The Elysée declined to comment.

The justice department will now have to decide if there was, during these individuals’ hearings before the commission of inquiry, false testimony, an offence punishable by five years in prison and a €75,000 fine.