Macron security aide affair: Mediapart responds to its critics

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Mediapart is not a back-room intelligence agency but a news-gathering organization. We do not spy on anyone nor do we install secret microphones, writes Mediapart publishing editor Edwy Plenel. We are content with revealing information in the public interest while respecting press laws. That is true in the current affair involving President Emmanuel Macron's security aide Alexandre Benalla just as it was in the earlier Bettencourt, Sarkozy-Gaddafi and Cahuzac affairs, he says.

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Here, then, is an affair of state.

It implicates the French Republic's presidency and, in particular, the head of state through one of his closest aides who was in charge of his personal security. It reveals the exceptional protection afforded by the highest levels of state to this figure from the shadows, despite him being investigated by the justice system for assault.

The various episodes throughout this saga have been both astonishing and mysterious and are worthy of a spy series, ranging as they do from the use of privileged diplomatic passports and the keeping of personal contact with the president to an inordinate fondness for firearms, not forgetting an insolent sense of impunity shown by the individual concerned. It has been enlivened by lies given under oath before a Parliamentary commission of inquiry, by communication between two people under formal investigation in violation of their bail conditions, and by schemes to remove evidence and obstruct justice.

Finally, and perhaps above all, the affair reveals possible manoeuvres by a foreign power in the heart of the French presidency, in this case Russia via an oligarch loyal to President Vladimir Putin. It involves a private security contact for a potential total of 1.2 million euros, of which 300,000 euros were paid initially, and which was negotiated at Alexandre Benalla's initiative at the time when he was working at the Élysée, and thus benefiting from his status as a discreet figure trusted by the president of the Republic.

After the initial revelations of the affair by Le Monde on July 18th 2018, a great deal is owed to Mediapart for having pieced together a puzzle that is still incomplete; the unlikely landscape that it describes still guards its secrets. The severity of the recent Senate report into the affair is based in particular on the three latest developments in our long-term investigation – the controversial Russian contract, the mysterious diplomatic passports and the unlawful communication between the two people under formal investigation. Without Mediapart's work, judges, the police and senators would have known nothing of this, let alone the public.

Alexandre Benalla and President Emmanuel Macron during a visit to Normandy April 12th 2018. © Reuters Alexandre Benalla and President Emmanuel Macron during a visit to Normandy April 12th 2018. © Reuters
This is not about boasting; rather, we should be alarmed at the weakness of the other counter powers faced with the power of the presidency. The fact remains that for those disturbed by the message that our information delivers  – which risks interfering with their little arrangements and revealing their major secrets – there is nothing more urgent than attacking the messenger. We are used to it, even if that does not prevent a sense of weariness. During each major national affair revealed by Mediapart, various protagonists in the public debate have persisted in illustrating the Chinese proverb: “When the wise man points to the moon, the fool looks at the finger.”

Without demeaning ourselves by naming them, we will content ourselves by saying that they look in a different direction whenever we show them information. So, during the Bettencourt affair back in 2010 we were already being portrayed as a backroom team using fascist methods. In 2012 in the case involving Libyan funding of former president Nicolas Sarkozy's inner circle we were portrayed as fakers spreading fake news. When it came to the case involving the Swiss bank account of budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac in 2013, we were tricksters who had no evidence. We were portrayed as everything but journalists.

Today in the Macron-Benalla affair we have become, according to preference, like the Stasi secret police from the former East Germany, “collaborators” or “snitches”, the “launderers of dirty information”, specialists in clandestine eavesdropping in an apartment, an intelligence agency or apprentice spies. Once again, anything but journalists.

As odious as they are, these diversions will clearly carry on for a long time, as did the previous ones. We have to wage what is sometimes a long battle, each time with the simple conviction of being true to our profession, to its methodological demands every bit as much as its democratic challenges. For we are indeed journalists and nothing but journalists, who are scrupulously respectful of the professional and ethical code contained in the jurisprudence of the law of July 29th 1881 on the freedom of the press.

In the Bettencourt affair – which involved L'Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt – a definitive judgement by the courts given in 2017 recognised the legitimacy of Mediapart's work in revealing the recordings made by Bettencourt's major-domo which sparked the affair. The verdict confirmed both the private need (the recordings revealed information in the public interest including serious financial offences, in particular relating to tax) and the private need (to protect Liliane Bettencourt from those who abused her weakness to profit from her immense wealth) to make widespread use of them. In the meantime a number of the details revealed by the recordings have led to the repayment of tax and criminal convictions.

In the Sarkozy-Gadaffi election funding affair, in a judgement given on January 30th 2019, France's top appeal court the Cour de Cassation confirmed that the Libyan document revealed by Mediapart in 2012 was neither a material nor an intellectual forgery. It removed definitively the suspicion of forgery and the use of false instruments that the former president of the Republic had invented to discredit our revelations. The judgement means that the former president can no longer evade the main election funding case itself, in which he has been placed under formal investigation under three headings, notably for passive corruption. Meanwhile a key figure in the case, middleman Alexandre Djouhri, is to be handed over to the French judicial authorities after a court in London agreed to his extradition from the United Kingdom.

In the case involving budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac, after nearly three months of preliminary investigation – triggered by our public appeal to the state prosecutor in Paris in the face of the inertia of a government which continued to protect its minister – the integrity and truth of the audio document revealed by Mediapart was confirmed. This led on March 19th 2013 to the opening of a judge-led investigation which quickly confirmed the acts of fraud and tax evasion committed by the main person concerned, Jérôme Cahuzac.

It is and will be the same in the Macron-Benalla affair. The conversations between Alexandre Benalla and his friend and fellow security agent Vincent Crase, revealed by Mediapart on January 31st 2019, and which serve as a pretext for our critics to attack us, are recordings of public interest. Nothing in their content harms the privacy of anyone at all, and what the recordings revealed was taken into account by the justice system which subsequently suspended for a week the bail of the two protagonists, Benalla and Crase, and which opened a new preliminary investigation over obstructing the truth.

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