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Fired bodyguard contradicts French presidency on Macron contacts

Fired bodyguard contradicts French presidency on Macron contacts
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PARIS (Reuters) - Emmanuel Macron's former security adviser said on Monday he regularly spoke to the French president, contradicting the presidency that has tried to distance itself from him since he was sacked for violent conduct that fuelled a political scandal.

Alexandre Benalla, originally Macron's bodyguard before taking the adviser's role, told the investigative journalism website Mediapart that he has had conversations with the president and other top officials on the messaging app Telegram since he was evicted from the Elysee Palace in July.

"It will be hard for them to deny, since all these exchanges are on my mobile telephone," Benalla said in an interview.

Officials had said there were no contacts between the former bodyguard and the presidency since his sacking. They didn't immediately respond on Monday to requests for comment on Benalla's latest comments.

The original Benalla scandal became a major headache for Macron just over a year into his tenure, after the president, whose popularity ratings have since slipped, was criticised for acting too slowly in dealing with a member of his inner circle.

The president is scheduled to address the nation for New Year on Monday evening.

Benalla, who was fired after a video emerged of his beating of a May Day protester, is back in the spotlight for consultancy work in African countries and his acknowledgment that he had continued to use diplomatic passports.

Since the questioning of Benalla's consultancy work and diplomatic passports, the "link with the presidency is cut", the former bodyguard told Mediapart.

The second scandal comes at an even more sensitive period for Macron, who is grappling with a wave of "yellow vest" street protests by disgruntled voters calling for more measures to help lift up middle class' income.

Paris prosecutors have opened a preliminary inquiry into Benalla's holding of the diplomatic passports even though the former bodyguard said he had handed them over when he was fired and got them back through the president's staff in October.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau and Inti Landauro; Editing by Bate Felix; editing by David Stamp)

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