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The Benalla Affair Explodes

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Share the post "The Benalla Affair Explodes" At first I minimized l’Affaire Benalla. When the story of his video-recorded misdeeds first hit the news, I appeared on France24 and expressed my firm opinion that what happened on the place de la Contrescarpe reflected nothing more than the inflated self-importance of a 26-year-old kid from les quartiers to whom Macron had imprudently given a leg up. Certainly it did not rise to the level of une affaire d’État, as many others seemed to believe. With the latest revelations, however, that position can no longer be sustained. Benalla’s self-importance was inflated, to be sure, but it led to more than an unimpressive collar in the middle of a lackluster demonstration. Benalla, despite his tender age, was a man of grandiose

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At first I minimized l’Affaire Benalla. When the story of his video-recorded misdeeds first hit the news, I appeared on France24 and expressed my firm opinion that what happened on the place de la Contrescarpe reflected nothing more than the inflated self-importance of a 26-year-old kid from les quartiers to whom Macron had imprudently given a leg up. Certainly it did not rise to the level of une affaire d’État, as many others seemed to believe.

With the latest revelations, however, that position can no longer be sustained. Benalla’s self-importance was inflated, to be sure, but it led to more than an unimpressive collar in the middle of a lackluster demonstration. Benalla, despite his tender age, was a man of grandiose ambitions. And two Russian oligarchs–said to be “close to Putin,” but is it possible to be a Russian oligarch without being at least tolerated by Putin–saw him as their point of entry into security surrounding both the president and prime minister of France, as revealed today by Mediapart.

Thanks to Mediapart’s reporting, we now know that Benalla, while working at the Elysée as the head of Macron’s security, personally negotiated a contract with Iskander Makhmudov, a Russian billionaire. In exchange for more than a million euros, the contract would have provided a year’s security for Makhmudov’s girlfriend and 7-year-old triplets, residing in Paris (Makhmudov himself did not visit France during the period of the contract). Benalla’s partner in this deal was Vincent Crase, who also worked in the Elysée as head of security for Macron’s party, LREM.

But that was not all. Benalla and Crase recruited a third partner, Choukri Wakrim, whose live-in companion is  Marie-Elodie Poitout, until last week the head of security for the French Prime Minister. And meanwhile, Benalla negotiated another, equally lucrative contract with another Russian billionaire, Farkhad Akhmedov, who made his fortune in Russian oil and gas.

The Mediapart story is full of other interesting details. But the bottom line here is that several individuals involved in the close protection of France’s two top leaders were doing business with Russians involving sums several times what they were being paid by the French government. So I must revise my opinion. The Benalla Affair has indeed now become an affair of state of astonishing proportions. How could this have happened? Why were these amateur entrepreneurs in the positions they were in? Did the real security services of the state know what was happening? Did President Macron? If so, why did they let it happen?

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Art Goldhammer
Writer, translator, scholar, blogger on French Politics, affiliate of Harvard's Center for European Studies, writes for The American Prospect, The Nation, etc.

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