Alexandre Benalla is the ex-security guard for French President Emmanuel Macron, whose handling of allegations against Benalla have plunged his presidency into its most serious crisis.
The scandal – which exploded when Benalla was accused of punching and tackling protesters and Macron’s administration was accused of going soft on Benalla and covering it up – led Macron to make the rather extraordinary public statement, denying he’d had an affair with Benalla: “Alexandre Benalla has never had the nuclear codes! Benalla has never been my lover!” Macron is married to wife Brigitte, his former teacher, who is 25 years his senior.
Benalla was working as the president’s top bodyguard, but he lost his job when news coverage broke into his actions with the protesters. The scandal has led to police raids at Elysee Palace and parliamentary inquiries.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Alexandre Benalla Was Accused of Becoming Violent With Protesters & Macron’s Administration of Covering it Up
The scandal revolves, in part, around Benalla’s alleged behavior on May Day 2018 when he was allegedly captured in a video “acting violently toward a protester,” ABC News reports.
According to CNBC, the video showed Benalla “hitting a male protester and violently manhandling another woman.”
While employed as a security guard to Macron, Benalla “was wearing a police visor and helmet but was only supposed to be observing the police in action,” CNBC reported. Benalla “has been charged with assault and impersonating a police officer,” reported France 24, and a parliamentary committee is investigating the government’s handling of the matter.
Video of the incident had circulated on social media immediately, where it was posted by left-wing party France Insoumise. It wasn’t until the media identified Benalla as one of the men in the video that the scandal blew up.
Once the media got wind of the tape and allegations, the scandal exploded because Benalla had only been quietly suspended. He was terminated after the newspaper Le Monde broke the story of the allegations, and, since then, accusations have swirled about his relationship with the president.
Critics claim that Macron’s office knew about the allegations and didn’t report them. According to Jacobin, the law requires that public employees report colleagues if they witness them committing a crime.
2. Benalla Has Admitted His Actions Were ‘Extremely Stupid’ & Some People Are Calling the Scandal the ‘French Watergate’
Benalla has expressed contrition, telling Le Monde that he was “extremely stupid” but was “only helping police neutralize two violent protesters,” the Guardian reported. He alleged that “jealous rivals” were trying to get at him and Macron, according to the British newspaper.
“I was the weak link … my case has been used to settle scores, it’s taken on proportions… I won’t say I was the fall-guy, I’m just saying it served various interests, an interest to get at the president of the republic,” Benalla said.
As the scandal exploded, some people have called it the “French Watergate.”
For his part, Macron defiantly told his ministers in a closed-door hearing that his rivals “could come and get me if they dare,” CNBC reported. Macron also criticized the media for “talking nonsense” and labeled the entire affair a ” “storm in a teacup,” according to France 24. Those kinds of comments have angered critics all the more.
3. Alexandre Benalla Is the Son of Moroccan Immigrants
Alexandre Benalla is 26-years-old. According to The Financial Times, he was born to Moroccan immigrants and “grew up in a suburb of Evreux in Normandy.” He was not a public figure in France until the recent questions about his connections with Macron burst into the news.
He has worked in political circles for some time, however. According to Financial Times, he previously worked for the French socialist party and as an adviser to Macron’s campaign. UK Daily Mail reports that Benalla “used to ski and cycle” with Macron.
Opposition parties have contended that the parliamentary investigation into the matter has devolved into a charade. However, Macron has said of Benalla’s initial 15-day suspension: “It is me who trusted Alexandre Benalla, it is me who confirmed the punishment.”
4. Benalla Had Use of a ‘Swanky’ Apartment
Questions have also swirled around perks that came with Benalla’s security guard job.
Benalla confirmed that he had use of an apartment, although he claimed he needed it for his job.
Benalla told LeMonde what it was like working for the president, saying, “Everything at the Elysee is based on how close people think you are to the president. Did he smile at you, call you by your name, etcetera. It’s a court phenomenon.”
According to Jacobin, some are outraged by Benalla’s use of what the site termed a “swanky apartment,” and reported that Benalla was at Macron’s side for multiple events after the suspension, including Bastille Day. He also participated in the World Cup victory parade.
5. Macron Is Married to His Former Teacher, Brigitte
Macron, in denying that Benalla is his gay lover, has pointed to the age gap between himself and his wife, Brigitte, as unfairly driving some of the rumors.
“If I had been 20 years older than my wife, nobody would have thought for a single second that I couldn’t be [an intimate partner],” he once told Le Parisien. “It’s because she is 20 years older than me that lots of people say, ‘This relationship can’t be tenable, it can’t be possible.'”
Emmanuel Macron is 40-years-old, and his wife, Brigitte Macron, is age 65. Macron’s daughter has described in interviews how her mother, then a teacher, fell for Macron when he was her teenage student.
“They were quite smitten and it was quite obvious between them and very difficult,” said the daughter, who was 9 when her mother fell for Macron, then 15, according to Telegraph.
Macron has denied rumors that he is gay in the past.