Alexandre Benalla, French President Emmanuel Macron’s disgraced ex-bodyguard, was placed under formal investigation on Tuesday over a security contract signed by an associate with a Russian oligarch, according to security sources.
Benalla, who was fired in 2018 after being filmed assaulting protesters, was detained by specialised anti-corruption police along with his wife as part of an investigation into the business dealings of his former associate, Vincent Crase, French security sources told AFP.
Crase, an ex-policeman who once handled security for Macron’s political party, told investigators in 2019 that the deal with Russian oligarch Iskander Makhmudov covered security for him and his children in France and Monaco.
Benalla denied having anything to do with the contract when he was auditioned by a parliamentary committee in 2018.
The 30-year-old former nightclub bouncer was once close to Macron, but has since become an embarrassment for the head of state.
French investigators are probing possible money laundering and corruption in the deal between Crase’s company and Makhmudov, who is reputed to be close to Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
French investigative website Mediapart reported in December 2019 that the deal was worth 294,000 euros ($333,000).
Major test for Macron’s presidency
The latest development in what has been dubbed “Benallagate” in the French press came a month after the disgraced former bodyguard was sentenced for assaulting two young demonstrators during an anti-capitalist demonstration in 2018, as well for faking documents and illegally carrying a firearm.
Macron fired Benalla after a video clip of the 2018 incident emerged showing him striking a young man and grabbing a young woman by the neck at a May Day protest in Paris.
The former bouncer was wearing a police helmet, even though he had only been given leave to attend the protest as an observer.
“Benallagate” ballooned into the first major test for Macron’s presidency, which was accused of a cover-up for failing to report Benalla to the police until French daily Le Monde revealed the existence of the video two months after the incident.
Benalla denied the charges at his trial, saying he had acted “by reflex” to help officers arrest unruly protesters.
After the scandal broke, Benalla also admitted carrying a handgun during outings with Macron, even though he was only authorised to have it within Macron’s party headquarters, where he was nicknamed “Rambo”.
Investigators found that he continued to use diplomatic passports for trips to Africa and Israel, where he was trying to build up a consulting business.
He was also found guilty of using faked documents to obtain one of the passports.