French Senate Urges Probe of Macron Aides over Bodyguard Scandal
The French Senate on Thursday called on prosecutors to investigate three top aides to Emmanuel Macron, who are suspected of trying to cover up a scandal involving the president's former bodyguard.
The move threatens to trigger a political storm between the conservative-controlled Senate and Macron just as the centrist president is struggling to end four months of anti-government protests over his economic reforms.
The Senate recommended that Macron's chief of staff, Patrick Strzoda, his presidential secretary Alexis Kohler, and security chief Lionel Lavergne be investigated over their testimony to a commission that held a seven-month inquiry into the so-called "Benalla affair".
Alexandre Benalla, a presidential bodyguard, was fired last year after a video emerged of him roughing up protesters during a May Day demonstration in Paris.
The affair shone an unflattering light on Macron's administration, since the president, who had promised an "exemplary republic," fired Benalla only after Le Monde newspaper broke the story.
- 'Major flaws' -
Drawing on its commission's findings, the Senate executive said Strzoda was suspected of possible perjury, while Kohler and Lavergne were suspected of not disclosing the full truth about the affair.
The Senate also called for Benalla and his associate Vincent Crase, a former police officer who was also at the May Day protest, to be investigated for lying to the commission.
Benalla has already been charged with roughing up a young man and woman at the May 1 rally, which he was supposedly attending only as an observer.
Last month, the Senate investigating commission said it had found "major flaws" in the government's handling of the case, which it said affected both the president's security and "national interests."
It suggested that Kohler and Lavergne "withheld significant truth", while Benalla, Crase and Strzoda lied to the commission, an offense punishable by up to five years in jail.
The presidency, which had earlier dismissed the Senate commission's findings as "filled with untruths", on Thursday initially declined to comment on the case.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe refused to attend a question-and-answer session before the Senate, while a senior member of Macron's party, Stanislas Guerini, branded the Senate move a "political trial" designed to "damage the president of the republic."
The Senate call for a judicial probe comes at a tough time for Macron, whose approval ratings have plunged as he battles to end the often violent violent "yellow vest" protests over his economic program.
Francois Patriat, who heads Macron's Republic on the Move lawmakers in the Senate, accused Socialists and conservatives of ganging up "to take their revenge for an electoral defeat they never accepted."