New video footage obtained by Mediapart shows how French President Emmanuel Macron’s security aide Alexandre Benalla, together with an employee of Macron’s ruling LREM party, Vincent Crase, actively and in total illegality took part in the arrest of a May Day demonstrator in a Paris park, just hours before the two men were later filmed assaulting a man alongside police at another venue in the French capital.
Both men were filmed and photographed wearing police insignia, including distinctive red armbands, on several occasions during the May Day demonstrations in Paris, while Crase was also illegally carrying a handgun in a hip holster while involved in the physical assaults.
The video revealed here follows on another identifying Benalla and Crase in the same incident published online last Friday by French daily Libération, and which has now led to the opening of an investigation by the Paris public prosecution services.
As revealed in another video published by Mediapart, the two "observers" are then involved in the arrest of the man they assaulted, a Greek national, who is finally beaten up again by riot police. He was later released from police custody without any case to answer.
The video, and other footage of the events subsequently revealed by the media, including Mediapart, prompted the opening of a judicial investigation and two separate parliamentary inquiries into the affair, both ongoing.
Benalla, 26, a former private bodyguard for Macron during his election campaign who was appointed as a security aide to the newly elected president, and later as deputy to his chief of cabinet, was officially given an immediate two-week suspension from his duties on May 4th. Crase, employed by Macron’s LREM party which has said his job involved “guard duties”, was similarly given a two-week suspension.
It was only after the scandal erupted on July 18th that the French presidential office, the Élysée Palace, announced on July 20th that Benalla was to be dismissed from his job.
Following the new footage revealed here of Benalla and Crase involved in another incident on May 1st, hours before that on the place de la Contrescarpe, the LREM party’s head official Christophe Castaner announced on Tuesday that dismissal proceedings had finally begun against Crase. The initial leniency shown towards the two men, the fact that their actions were not reported to the public prosecution services and, when the scandal was finally revealed on July 18th, an almost week-long silence before President Macron offered any comment on the affair have all contributed to speculation of a cover up.
Macron has since denounced Benalla’s thuggish behaviour, although he also paid tribute last week to the former personal security aide saying that he was “proud” to have hired him and that Benalla had “done lots of good things”.
Benalla was not part of the president’s official security group, made up of around 80 officers from the police and gendarmerie, but appears to have enjoyed, as a relatively young civilian recruit, an unusual influence among the Paris police authorities.
Benalla and Crase were officially present as “observers” of police crowd control operations on May 1st, when the traditional Labour Day marches took to the streets of Paris. There was a tense build-up to the marches in the capital due to the expected presence among the crowds taking part of so-called “black bloc” groups of rioters. On the day, violence erupted close to the Austerlitz railway station, when masked and hooded rioters attacked and set fire to commercial property and vehicles.
The video presented here was shot on a mobile phone in the nearby Jardin des plantes, the public botanical gardens surrounding the Paris natural history museum, where some May Day marchers fled after the violence erupted. Benalla and Crase can be seen clearly acting like police officers and taking part in the arrest of a man, apparently a May Day demonstrator, by CRS riot police.
After video of what appears to be part of the same incident was published by Libération on Friday, Alexandre Benalla was interviewed by French weekly Le JDD, in which he confirmed his presence in the park. “I was behind the police officers, as an observer, it can be distinctly seen,” he told the weekly, adding: “No intervention on my part at that moment.” Meanwhile, his lawyer, Laurent-Franck Liénard, told BFM TV that “one sees nothing on this video, Mr Benalla does strictly nothing at that place, nor against anyone”.
However, in the video (see immediately below), Benalla (wearing a white hood) and Crase (closely shaved head and sunglasses on his forehead) can be seen, both circled, pulling a young man by the arm, alongside a group of CRS, during his arrest.
The video was taken by a 27-year-old teacher of economic and social sciences, whose name is withheld. He recounted the circumstances of the scene to Mediapart: “I had come to demonstrate on May 1st but seeing how things were taking shape I chose to escape from the clashes on the boulevard de l’Hôpital [editor’s note: near the Austerlitz station] and the tear gas. There were many of us who found refuge inside the Jardin des plantes.”
“We distanced ourselves from the entrance to the park. There were tourists, families with children, and demonstrators. The atmosphere was strange because the CRS were tensed up although there was no throwing of projectiles. I even remember Spanish tourists astonished at the situation. Then a young man sprang out, it seemed, from a bush, shouting. He was chased by CRS who trapped him on the ground. There were four police officers who were hitting him when he was on the ground. That was when I said to myself I should film because it was very violent.”
The video recording began at 4.52pm. Surrounded by CRS officers, Alexandre Benalla and Vincent Crase take charge of the young man who had been chased by the CRS. “When I shot these images I did not ask myself the question of who was taking charge of the young man, but I was shocked at the violence with which he was beaten. That’s when I switched on the video on my phone, when he was taken by the police to the entrance of the park. Then a CRS officer asked us to leave in the opposite direction, towards a different exit from the park.”
In the video published by Libération on 27th, Vincent Crase, wearing a police armband, and Alexandre Benalla are seen in the presence of police major Philippe Mizerski, who order a 24-year-old woman and a 23-year-old man accompanying her – both of whose identities were withheld by the daily – to leave the park.
Mizerski is a key figure in the growing scandal surrounding Benalla and Crase, who were officially “observers” he was supposed to be in charge of.
The woman, a justice ministry employee and Communist Party militant, filmed the scene. But the shaky video is halted when she herself is physically restrained. Her companion told Libération that seeing she was restrained “in a very violent manner” he intervened by placing his arms on the person holding her and found himself thrown to the ground and handcuffed. He was subsequently taken into custody at a police station on suspicion of attacking a police officer.
Mediapart was able to contact his lawyer, Nadja Diaz. “The length of custody in which my client was held was prolonged for a confrontation [with those present at the scene of his arrest] that never took place”. He was eventually released without any procedure taken against him.
This new video published by Mediapart allows it to be clearly shown that Messrs Crase and Benalla proceed with an arrest in the Jardin des plantes on May 1st, in the immediate proximity of the spot where my client was himself arrested,” added Diaz. “It shows that Mr Benalla, contrary to what he said through the intermediary of his lawyer, had not ‘strictly done nothing at that place, nor against anyone’ on that day. He therefore lied. It shows that, that afternoon in question, they openly and publicly acted like police officers.”
No case was brought against those people known to have been arrested in the presence of Benalla and Crase on May 1st. Under police regulations, anyone arrested, however briefly, should be the subject of a report given to the officer in charge of the operations. This should contain the person’s identity and the place, date and hour when they were arrested, along with the circumstances of the arrest and the reasons for it. It remains unclear whether any such report was prepared concerning those arrested in presence of Benalla and Crase or whether, in the case that such a report was made, their names appeared on it.
Senior public prosecutor François Molins last week wrote to the Paris police to ask why no case was brought against the man and his female companion at the centre of the Benalla-Crase incidents on the place de la Contrescarpe. Through their lawyer, the couple had admitted throwing objects at riot police “in the heat of the moment” when they found themselves at the centre of a police charge.
The new video of the events in the Jardin des plantes published by Mediapart in this report demonstrate that the violence perpetrated by Benalla and Crase at the Latin Quarter square were not an isolated incident, but rather that the pair had actively joined in police operations earlier on May 1st. Mediapart attempted to contact Benalla’s lawyer Laurent-Franck Liénard to ask who had given Macron’s aide permission to behave as if he was a police officer, but he did not return our call.
“These events repeated during the day of May 1st on at least three occasions by a public servant for the personal security of the president, and an employee of his party, cannot have been ignored by everyone,” commented Grégory Saint Michel, lawyer for the young girl who shot the video at the Jardin des plantes which was published by Libération. “After the communications [campaign] must come the time to establish the responsibilities and complicity.”
The French version of this article can be found here.
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English version with added reporting by Graham Tearse