The Benalla affair is a political and judicial case involving Alexandre Benalla, who served as a security officer and deputy chief of staff to French President Emmanuel Macron. On 18 July 2018, the newspaper Le Monde identified him in footage as the person who beat up a young protester during the 2018 May Day demonstrations in Paris while impersonating a police officer.
Following the publication of the report, the Paris public prosecutor opened a preliminary investigation on 19 July concerning “violence, usurpation of the functions of a police officer and using signs reserved for public authorities”. On 20 July, the Élysée announced that Benalla would be dismissed. On 22 July, Benalla was placed under formal investigation additionally for “concealment of a violation of professional secrecy” and “concealment of the misuse of images from a video surveillance system”. An accomplice, Vincent Crase, was also placed under formal investigation, as well as three police officers for illegally transmitting video surveillance to Benalla. Parts of the French political class media questioned the Élysée’s responsibility in the case for its apparent concealment of the case from the public prosecutor.
Both the National Assembly and Senate launched parliamentary inquiries into the affair, with Interior Minister Gérard Collomb, Paris police chief Michel Delpuech, Department of Public Order and Traffic (DOPC) director Alain Gibelin, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe, and Élysée chief of staff Patrick Strzoda among those called to testify. Opposition lawmakers in the National Assembly also announced their intention to submit a motion of no confidence against the government.
His name appeared numerous times in the 2017 Macron e-mail leaks, dubbed “MacronLeaks”, having procured several non-lethal weapons and riot shields. At the request of the Élysée to aide him in his capacity as a security officer, Benalla was granted a carry license by the Paris police prefecture in October 2017. Karim Achoui, the founder of the Muslim Judicial Defense League with whom Benalla was close, made a previous request for a carry permit that was denied in 2013 in his capacity as a lawyer. During a March 2017 campaign event in Caen, he allegedly pushed a Public Sénat journalist 50 meters and seized his press badge, which granted close access to Macron and his supporters, without giving any explanation.
Benalla seemed to maintain a close relationship with Macron as he was the only member of his cabinet to join a skiing trip at the end of 2017, the only other invitees being his security detail
On 18 July 2018, Le Monde revealed in an article that 26-year-old Alexandre Benalla, who served as a security officer to President of France Emmanuel Macron during the 2017 presidential campaign and was later hired as deputy chief of staff to the president under François-Xavier Lauch, was the person who grabbed a young man by the neck during the May Day demonstrations before hitting him several times in a video taken at the Place de la Contrescarpe published on Facebook by a La France Insoumise activist. In the video, Benalla wore a police helmet despite not being a police officer. According to Patrick Strzoda, Benalla asked him for permission to join the police during May Day to observe how a large demonstration was managed. After Strzoda was informed that Benalla had been seen in the videos, Benalla said that he was the individual shown in the videos and Strzoda informed Macron, then in Australia, of the situation. As a result, Benalla was temporarily suspended from 4 to 19 May before being reassigned to the security of events at the Élysée Palace, including the celebration of the victory of the national football team after winning the 2018 FIFA World Cup just days before the publication of the report. However, these claims were questioned by journalists who uncovered photos after the supposed reassignment as part of Macron’s entourage. A second video, showing a different angle of the incident, was posted to Twitter on 19 July, showing Benalla grabbing a woman by the neck and dragging her away before leaving towards the other protester.
Benalla was accompanied by Vincent Crase, a reservist gendarme hired by La République En Marche!, who likewise served as a security officer for Macron during the 2017 presidential campaign. Crase, like Benalla, received a 15-day suspension for his involvement in the May Day demonstrations, and remained employed by the party, but unlike Benalla had ended “any collaboration” with the office of the presidency. A third individual, Philippe Mizerski, was identified; Mizerski, a member of the Department of Public Order and Traffic (DOPC) in Paris was responsible for supervising Benalla’s role as an “observer” but did not attempt to stop Benalla from assaulting the protesters.
On 19 July, the Paris prosecutor announced that it opened a preliminary investigation into incidents of “violence, usurpation of the functions of a police officer and using insignia reserved for public authorities” concerning Alexandre Benalla. Strzoda was heard as a witness in the investigation the same day. Minister of the Interior Gérard Collomb also announced that he referred the case to the General Inspectorate of the National Police (IGPN) and that its report would be published publicly, with the IGPN charged with investigating how Benalla and Crase were allowed to participate in overseeing the demonstrations alongside the police. The interior ministry, however, said that no immediate action had been taken against either of the two on 1 May despite having been aware of the incident, and France Inter revealed that Collomb himself was informed about the incident on 2 May before the Élysée took action to suspend Benalla on 3 May.
On 20 July, the Élysée announced that it had initiated a dismissal procedure against Benalla following the discovery of “new facts” of the case related to the suspension of three police officers – Laurent Simonin, Maxence Creusat, and Jean-Yves Hunault – for apparently passing on surveillance footage to Benella, presumably to help him prepare his defense in what Collomb described as a potentially “serious breach of ethics”. The footage, which was copied by the officers and sent to Benalla the evening the article in Le Monde was published, depicts another angle not shown by the other videos and should theoretically not have existed given that video footage older than a month was supposed to be automatically erased. After obtaining the footage, Benalla reportedly shared it with Ismaël Emelien, a political advisor close to Macron, and other Élysée viewed this footage as well. The Paris prosecutor office took both Benella and Crase into custody in the morning. A photo obtained of Benalla’s official car in a parking lot before it was removed on 19 July showed the vehicle equipped with police devices despite not belonging to the police. Le Monde reported on 20 July that Benalla declared his official residence from 9 July as the Palais de l’Alma at 11 quai Branly, a dependency of the Élysée, with 180,000 euros earmarked to house Benalla, according to a report in L’Express.
On 22 July, Benalla was placed under formal investigation additionally for “concealment of a violation of professional secrecy” and “concealment of the misuse of images from a video surveillance system”, in addition to Crase and the three suspended police officers. The apparent victims in the videos were also identified and asked to testify at a later date. On 23 July, Benalla’s lawyers (Laurent-Franck Lienard and Audrey Gadot) issued a statement – the first since the beginning of the affair – saying that Benalla was “stunned by the media and political usage” of his actions during the May Day demonstrations and that he “took the initiative to lend a hand” by helping to “control” what they described as “two particularly virulent individuals”. Benalla’s office at the Élysée was subject to a police raid lasting several hours on 25 July.
On 27 July, Libération published a video showing that Benalla and Crase were involved in another demonstrator’s arrest several hours before, in the Jardin des plantes, ordering one of the demonstrators to remove photographs and videos she filmed.