One of President Macron’s longest serving security guards was handed preliminary charges on July 22nd for assaulting a protester at a May Day rally.
Alexandre Benalla handled Macron's security during his presidential campaign and remained on his staff after his election. Benalla was recorded on tape, wearing a police helmet, during the protest on May 1st.
The recording shows Benalla, who is not a police officer, beating a protester. Surrounded by riot police, he drags a woman from the crowd and then repeatedly beats a young male protester on the ground. The man can be heard begging Benalla to stop. The officers did not intervene.
Four others were also charged: Vincent Crase, who worked for Macron's party and was with Benalla on the day of the protest, and three police officers who are suspected of illegally passing footage from the event to Benalla. Crase was handed preliminary charges of violence and prohibited possession of a weapon.
The charges against them came as French authorities opened a judicial investigation. The alleged offenses include violence, interfering in the exercise of public office and the unauthorised public display of official insignia.
The video was made public by Le Monde newspaper on July 18th and 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.
Proceedings to fire Benalla had only been initiated by the presidential palace on July 20th, the day before investigators raided his house. Macron's office also said Benalla was supposed only to be accompanying officers to the May protest as an observer.
Criticism has grown since it became clear that the president's office knew about the assault earlier than previously admitted, AP reported. Lawmakers were shocked to learn that Benalla initially received only a two-week suspension and still had an office in the presidential palace two and a half months after the beating took place.
Macron's political opponents were quick to seize the moment and voice their own criticisms. Les Republicans party leader Laurent Wauquiez said the government was "trying to conceal a matter of state", while far-right leader Marine Le Pen tweeted, "If Macron doesn't explain himself, the Benalla affair will become the Macron affair."
The questioning of Interior Minister Gerard Collomb is scheduled for the week starting July 23rd. Macron has so far remained silent about the behaviour of his longtime bodyguard.