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  • French President Emmanuel Macron and Elysee senior security officer Alexandre Benalla

    French President Emmanuel Macron and Elysee senior security officer Alexandre Benalla | Photo: Reuters

Published 27 December 2018

Fresh revelations sparked questions in France over why he was granted high-level access to African leaders.

The French presidency is trying to distance itself from Emmanuel Macron's former bodyguard Alexandre Benalla after revelations about controversial meetings he had with African presidents, according to a letter seen by AFP on Thursday.

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Benalla faces criminal charges after it emerged in July that he roughed up protesters during a May Day demonstration in Paris while wearing a police helmet. The "Benalla affair" sparked a major scandal for Macron, prompting a wave of accusations from opponents that the presidency covered it up.

Benalla, 27, was eventually fired after the revelations, but new evidence suggests he may have been profiting from his former insider status.

Two weeks ago, it emerged that Benalla traveled to Chad in early December and met with President Idriss Deby, shortly before Macron himself paid a visit to the African country.

Benalla said he was accompanying a "foreign business delegation" promoting major Middle Eastern companies.

Macron's office told AFP this week that Benalla had not informed the presidency of the trip until afterwards.

However, on Thursday the investigative website Mediapart reported that Benalla had used a diplomatic passport to enter several African countries as well as Israel in recent weeks.

The Foreign Ministry later confirmed that Benalla had indeed been issued two diplomatic passports, but was asked to return them after his dismissal this summer.

The ministry said it would consider taking legal action if the passports were used.

In the strongly worded letter to Benalla dated December 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."

The presidency would be forced to respond to any previously undisclosed business dealings deemed "incompatible" with his former role, Strzoda warned.

Benalla has denied boasting of insider influence to win work after his sacking and accused members of Macron's entourage of "trying to wreck" his life.

"I won't keep quiet any longer," he said in a statement Wednesday.

Le Monde newspaper reported that Benalla had met in October with Congo's President Denis Sassou-Nguesso as well as with top officials in Cameroon as part of a business delegation.

"Today I'm doing consulting work. I'm working in around ten countries in Africa," Benalla told the newspaper.

Benalla, a former bouncer, became Macron's chief bodyguard during his 2017 election campaign and was given a senior security job upon his victory.

He faces charges of assault, impersonating an officer, and illicitly receiving CCTV recordings of the May Day incident. He has denied any wrongdoing.

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