Emmanuel Macron, the French President, is facing mounting pressure to explain his failure to order immediate legal action against a close aide filmed assaulting protesters, after the interior minister and the Paris police chief sought to shift blame on Monday.
Mr Macron cancelled a plan to join spectators at the Tour de France on Wednesday. It would have been his first public appearance since the scandal over the alleged cover-up erupted last week.
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Gérard Collomb, the interior minister, and Michel Delpuech, the Paris police chief, testified separately to a parliamentary committee of inquiry that it was left up to the president’s office to report the aide’s actions to public prosecutors.
It was only after French newspaper Le Monde published mobile phone footage last Wednesday showing Alexandre Benalla, a security officer who was a deputy chief of staff at the Elysée Palace, attacking two protesters at a May 1 protest, that he was sacked.
He was charged on Sunday with assault and impersonating a police officer. The video shows police officers watching without intervening. Mr Benalla defended his actions by saying he was “lending [the police] a hand,” according to his lawyers.
He was suspended for two weeks after the incident but subsequently continued to appear in public alongside the president.
It is the most damaging political crisis since Mr Macron took office 14 months ago,promising “a new morality” in public life.
The interior minister and the police chief both acknowledged learning of the footage on May 2, the day after it was filmed. Mr Collomb said he had raised the matter with the office of the president, who was then visiting Australia, and was told that the police chief had been informed.
“It was up to them [the president’s office and the police chief] to respond,” the minister told MPs. “I considered that the facts which were flagged up were being dealt with at the appropriate level, so I did not get involved further with this matter.”
The police chief said he was informed of the video by the president’s office, which could have alerted prosecutors. “I considered that it was up to the initiative of officials in the hierarchy,” Mr Delpuech said. He blamed the alleged cover-up on “unhealthy cronyism.”
Three senior police officers have been charged for allegedly passing CCTV footage to Mr Benalla in an apparent attempt to conceal evidence of the incident.
Vincent Crase, a bodyguard employed by Mr Macron’s party, was also charged with assault and impersonating a police officer.
Opposition leaders and newspaper editorials condemned the existence of “parallel police” and demanded that Mr Macron himself appear before the inquiry.