France: Macron’s presidency faces new embarrassment from ex-bodyguard
Emmanuel Macron’s former security adviser has revealed that he regularly spoke and exchanged messages with the French president even after he was removed from his job over a political scandal in July.
Alexandre Benalla, originally Macron’s bodyguard before taking the adviser’s role, made the revelation in an interview with French news website Mediapart on Monday, saying he has had conversations with the president and other top officials on the Telegram messaging application since he was evicted from the Elysee Palace in July.
“We exchange messages on lots of different subjects. It’s often like, ‘how do you see things’. It could be about the ‘yellow vests’, the views on someone or security issues,” Benalla said in the interview.
“It will be hard for them to deny, since all these exchanges are on my mobile telephone,” he added.
This comes as French officials have time and again said there were no contacts between the former bodyguard and the presidency since his sacking.
Benalla was caught on video beating protesters at a demonstration in May while wearing a police helmet.
The president’s 27-year-old former bodyguard was further embroiled in another scandal last week when it emerged he had retained his diplomatic passports even after losing his job.
French prosecutors and the Foreign Ministry have accused Benalla of using his diplomatic passports illegally, an allegation denied by him.
“If they don’t want me to use these passports, they could deactivate them,” he said. “When you travel abroad with a diplomatic passport, the French embassy knows when you arrive.”
Benalla claimed he had handed the passports over when he was forced out of his job and got them back through the president’s staff in October.
This comes as Macron’s popularity ratings have slipped after more than a year into his tenure, following increasing opposition to his economic policies and fuel tax hikes.
A popularity survey conducted by research group Ifop on nearly 2,000 participants in mid-November showed that Macron’s popularity had dropped to 25 percent, a 4-percent drop compared to October.
Since November, France has also been the scene of widespread protests by supporters of the “Yellow Vest” movement against Macron’s controversial fuel tax hike and the high costs of living in the European country.
The embattled president canceled his planned fuel-tax hike on December 10 and offered a rise in the minimum wage, tax relief for pensioners and tax-free overtime for workers, but about half of the public – according to numerous polls – believe Macron’s concessions were not meaningful enough and that the movement should continue.
Since the movement began on November 17, ten people have been killed and more than 1,500 have been injured. Fifty of the injury cases were serious. Thousands more have been arrested by security forces.