French President Emmanuel Macron’s former personal security officer, who was fired for beating protesters, defended himself before a senate inquiry Wednesday by saying he was neither a policeman nor a bodyguard.
Alexandre Benalla was taken into custody by police last July after Le Monde released video showing him posing as a policeman in riot gear and beating protesters during France’s May Day demonstrations.
The incident grew to become the most serious scandal Macron has faced during his short time in office after it was revealed Benalla had only been punished with a two week suspension at the time.
The president fired Benalla after the videos became public on July 19, deepening the furor and leading to a senate and a judicial investigation. Macron’s ministers have denounced the investigations as politically partisan.
The president’s popularity has been hovering around 30 percent recently, half of what it has been in the past, and French media has frequently compared the incident to Watergate.
Historically, French leaders have used shadowy unofficial police and intelligence operatives to carry out dubious acts. The incident has dredged up memories of this old sore point.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Benalla claimed that he had never been an unofficial bodyguard, but rather an aide in charge of liaising between Macron’s office and the GSPR, the security body officially in charge of protecting the president.