Macron security aide scandal deepens with minister under fire

Opposition lawmakers have demanded that Mr Macron explain the government's stand

FILE - In this Wednesday April 26, 2017 file photo French centrist presidential election candidate Emmanuel Macron, flanked by his bodyguard, Alexandre Benalla, left, arrives outside the Whirlpool home appliance factory, in Amiens, northern France. Benalla, an aide to President Emmanuel Macron, charged with security, has been seen in a video wearing a police helmet and beating up a student protester in May, reigning criticism on Macron notably due to the light punishment _ a two-week suspension. (Eric Feferberg/Pool via AP, File)

The most damaging scandal of Emmanuel Macron's presidency deepened on Saturday with his interior minister due to face a grilling in parliament over his response to a top security aide of Mr Macron caught on video beating up a young man at a Paris protest in May.

Opposition lawmakers have demanded that Mr Macron, who has so far remained silent about the incident, explain the government's stand after the videos of his aide Alexandre Benalla emerged this week.

"If Macron doesn't explain himself the Benalla affair will become the Macron affair," far-right leader Marine Le Pen said in a tweet.

Laurent Wauquiez, the head of the Republicans party, accused the government of "trying to camouflage a matter of state" and said Mr Macron had to clarify the matter to the French people.

And far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon from the France Unbowed party called it a scandal of Watergate proportions and accused Mr Macron of "organising a personal militia".

Watergate was the name of a dirty tricks scandal that led to the resignation of former US President Richard Nixon in 1974.

Mr Benalla, 26, was initially suspended without pay but on Friday Mr Macron fired his former security aide, who was taken into custody suspected of unlawfully receiving police surveillance footage in a bid to clear his name.

He is to face a magistrate on Sunday, Paris prosecutors said.

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb has been heavily criticised over the affair, with some opposition lawmakers saying his job is on the line after press reports that he knew about Benalla's violence.

Mr Collomb will be publicly questioned from 10am (local time) on Monday morning by the Law Commission of the National Assembly, the head of the lower house of parliament announced.

Also on Saturday, three police officers were taken into custody suspected of providing the surveillance footage to Mr Benalla. They, too, will go before a magistrate on Sunday.

Read more: Video emerges of Macron bodyguard beating protester in Paris

They were accused of "misappropriation of images from a video surveillance system", as well as a "violation of professional secrets", the prosecutor's office said.

The Paris police prefecture said the footage was "improperly disclosed to a third party on the evening of July 18", the same night the newspaper Le Monde published the video that sparked the scandal.

That video, shot on a smartphone, showed Mr Benalla wearing a riot police helmet and surrounded by officers, manhandling and striking a protester during a May 1 demonstration.

In a second video published by the newspaper late Thursday, Mr Benalla -- who has never been a policeman -- is also seen violently wrestling a young woman to the ground during scuffles on a square near the Rue Mouffetard, a picturesque street in the fifth arrondissement.

The three senior officers taken into custody, who belong to the Paris department of public order and traffic, include a deputy chief of staff and a commissioner in the fifth arrondissement, as well as the commander in charge of relations between the prefecture and the Elysee Palace, said several sources close to the case.

Mr Benalla's home in the southwestern suburbs of Paris was raided on Saturday.

Vincent Crase, a security aide for Macron's Republic on the Move party and an associate of Mr Benalla's who also intervened during the May protest, was also taken into custody on Friday.

The Paris prosecutor's office said on Saturday that the custody of both Mr Benalla and Mr Crase had been extended by 24 hours.