The Benalla Affair Explodes

Arthur Goldhammer
11 February 2019

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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3 Comments

  • Anonymous says:

    The reason it happened is that Macron liked and trusted Benalla, and that was enough for Gerard Colomb to take a ‘hands off approach to Benalla. Everyone followed Colomb’s lead, and Benalla was allowed to run amok. That’s my theory, anyway.
    See the Giuliani-Kerik story circa 2002 -history repeats itself.
    Unlike Giuliani, Benalla’s ascension does not appear to have anything to do with Macron, as much as with people at the Elysee who thought they were doing themselves a favor by treating Benalla with kid gloves. Notice how quickly Gerard Colomb pleaded his need to return to Lyon when the investigation began. And the irony is that Macron has not been friendly to Putin, but nursed Benalla –a viper in his breast– who was.
    With friends like Colomb, who needs enemies?

  • Martin Heisler says:

    And if Macron and”the real security services of the state” not know, that says much about Macron’s executive competence and the reliability of the state’s security apparatus.

  • Massilian says:

    Once in power, you are no longer the candidate you once were and the golden rule is to get rid of all those who helped you achieve it. Macron didn’t do it. For too long he kept his small Praetorian guard of brilliant young advisors and the amusing and “disruptive” Benalla. The French intelligence services and other serious security professionals became more than annoyed, they decided to clean up a little by discretely serving copious anonymous breakfast trays at Le Canard Enchainé and Médiapart (what they like to call “investigative journalism”). That’s it, now everything will be fine. This is pretty light vegan stuff compared to the good old days of Christine Deviers-Joncour, Roland Dumas, the Taïwan frigates, the Elf scandal, Mrs Sirven and Le Floch-Prigent…

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