2019 has barely started and French President Emmanuel Macron is already embroiled in a new scandal after his former bodyguard said he's kept contact with the presidency even after his sacking.
Even as 2018 drew to a close and the Elysee Palace geared up for a new start in 2019, the Benalla scandal showed no signs of ending for French President Emmanuel Macron.
The then-head of Macron's personal security detail, Alexandre Benalla, sparked outrage earlier this year when a French newspaper identified him attacking protesters during a May Day rally.
Now Benalla is back in the spotlight after telling French media that he regularly spoke to the French president, contradicting what the Elysee Palace has said about Macron distancing himself from the bodyguard since he was sacked for violent conduct.
Benalla’s vengeance or an embarrassment for the government?
Benalla told French news website Mediapart that he has spoken to the French president and other members of the government through the messaging app Telegram since leaving in July.
"It will be hard for them to deny, since all these exchanges are on my mobile telephone," Benalla said in an interview.
The Elysee Palace was quick to respond to the former bodyguard’s statements, saying that he was “taking revenge for his dismissal for serious misconduct by maintaining a whole series of untruths and approximations”.
Benalla told Mediapart that since the prosecutors' investigation, the "link with the presidency is cut".
Use of diplomatic passport
Separately, the French Foreign Ministry said Benalla continued to use his diplomatic passports for consultancy work in Africa.
The former bodyguard said he had given them back when he was fired but got them back through government staff in October.
However, the Elysee said on Monday that it only became aware of Benalla's travels with the diplomatic passports in mid-December, after journalists made public his trip to Chad.
Paris prosecutors opened a preliminary enquiry into Benalla's use of the ID.
This second scandal comes at a sensitive time for the president who continues to deal with a wave of gilets jaunes (yellow vests) protests despite the holiday season.