France's Foreign Ministry threatens legal action against a former security aide to President Emmanuel Macron amid reports that he continued using his diplomatic passports after being fired for beating a protester. It's the latest in a web of scandals around Alexandre Benalla, whose association with President Macron deeply damaged the president.
Le Monde reported this week that Benalla recently traveled to Chad and Cameroon for high-level meetings, and investigative website Mediapart reported that he used diplomatic passports to do so.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said the ministry asked Benalla in July to return his two diplomatic passports but he hasn't complied. In a statement, she said the ministry "is examining next steps, including legal ones." The presidency confirmed on Thursday it had written to Alexandre Benalla in the last few days demanding more details of business trips to several African countries and telling him not to claim any links to the government. In the strongly worded letter to Benalla dated Dec. 22, Macron's office chief Patrick Strzoda warned the ex-bodyguard against divulging any confidential information gleaned during his previous job at the French president's side. "Let us be clear: we forbid you from claiming you have any kind of recommendation or tacit support from the presidency," Strzoda wrote.
"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." Strzoda further demanded that Benalla provide details of "personal and private trips" during his time working with Macron, including any payments. The presidency would be forced to respond to any previously undisclosed business dealings deemed "incompatible" with his former role, Strzoda warned.
The Benalla scandal marked a turning point for Macron's presidency and popularity from which he has found it hard to recover as other problems have piled up, including a stream of anti-government marches and riots by "yellow vest" protesters. The affair erupted in July after a video surfaced of Benalla beating a May Day protester. Macron fired him, but was accused by political rivals of acting too slowly and being out of touch. Benalla made a trip to Chad several weeks before Macron visited on Dec. 22 and 23, raising questions over whether he still had links to the president. Benalla, who is subject to a judicial investigation, has been quoted in several French news sites in recent days saying he was "shocked and scandalised" by suggestions that he had acted inappropriately. "Today I'm a consultant. I've been to around 10 countries in Africa," he told Le Monde. "I'm not going to stop doing what I'm doing."
Macron's approval ratings fell below 20 percent in early December, even as he responded to the protests with an array of measures including canning an unpopular fuel tax and raising the minimum wage.