PARIS: A presidential controversy that struck Emmanuel Macron last year is threatening to resurface, just as the French leader is moving past the turmoil created by the Yellow Vest protests.
The French government Wednesday denied a report that it had inappropriately interfered in the attempted raid of a news organisation that is investigating Macron’s former bodyguard, who had been caught on video beating demonstrators, sparking a national-level scandal. Mediapart, the news site, said the raid was an attack on the free press.
“This is just the government sharing information in a fully transparent way about elements that were also given to the press regarding an ongoing investigation,” government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said in his weekly press conference in Paris. “The justice system is independent, there is no sacred person.”
The issue returns after Macron’s approval rating rebounded to 34% in February after a five-point gain the prior month, according to an Ifop poll for Paris Match and Sud Radio. The grassroots Yellow Vest movement has been losing steam after the president reached out with a series of town hall meetings across France. Macron’s approval rating is now higher than it was before the mass demonstrations began.
Macron faced a fierce scandal in July last year when a video released by Le Monde newspaper showing his private bodyguard, Alexandre Benalla, beating demonstrators at a May Day protest. Macron and his staff covered up the incident for weeks and later defended Benalla before being forced to fire him.
On Feb 4, the French prosecutor’s office attempted to raid the offices of Mediapart, an investigative website that had published a report on Macron’s bodyguard.
The news organisation denied the authorities access to its offices but said it handed over recordings pertaining to the inquiry.
The website cited in its reports recordings obtained by unnamed sources in which the former bodyguard is heard saying he had stayed in contact with his boss even after his suspension from the Elysee presidential palace payroll.
In the recordings, Benalla also said Ismael Emelien, the president’s closest adviser, was helping him as he faced potential probes over his conduct.
The prosecutor said it sought to raid Mediapart on breach of privacy charges and for using illegal wiretapping devices, Agence France Presse reported, citing the prosecutor’s office. Mediapart reporter Fabrice Arfi told AFP the attempt was to trace the sources that led to the story.
Mediapart’s founder, Edwy Plenel, called the attempted raid “an attack on the free press” on Twitter. The major French media guilds criticised the attempts and opposition political parties criticised the move.