President Emmanuel Macron of France is facing fresh controversy after a photograph emerged of his former security chief Alexandre Benalla pointing a gun at a restaurant waitress.
The selfie, unearthed by Mediapart, the investigative website, heaps further embarrassment on Mr Macron as it shows Mr Benalla toting the gun during his presidential campaign in 2017.
At the time, he was not authorised to carry a weapon outside Mr Macron’s La République en Marche party headquarters in Paris.
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The police have launched a preliminary investigation into the incident. Mr Benella sparked the biggest political crisis of the Macron presidency in July when an online video was released showing him beating a protester during France’s May Day protests while wearing a police armband despite not being part of the force.
Mr Benalla was subsequently fired and has been handed preliminary charges for violence.
But controversy swirled around why someone so close to the French head of state initially got off with such light treatment. The president’s top aides had suspended Mr Benalla for only two weeks at the time, firing him only after public outrage made his position untenable.
Mr Benalla is due to be quizzed by judges of that affair on Friday.
En pleine présidentielle, Benalla dégaine son arme pour un selfie https://t.co/Y5BdHnE4tc
— Mediapart (@Mediapart) September 24, 2018
The selfie photo in the restaurant was taken at the end of April 2017 after Mr Macron held a rally in Poitiers in the run-up to the second-round presidential vote.
In the picture, Mr Benalla is seen pointing his Glock pistol at the neck of an unnamed waitress in Les Archives restaurant in Poitiers.
Two other men stand close behind her. Mediapart said it was taken by the waitress in an alcove where they ate. Another photo showed the same worker with Mr Macron, who dined in another closed alcove.
Mr Benalla told the waitress there was a "surprise" in the selfie, according to Mediapart.
Guillaume Duru, who was the manager of the restaurant at the time, said he was not present when the photograph was taken, but knew about it and advised the woman to keep quiet.
“The waitress called me during the evening and told me what happened,” Mr Duru told La Nouvelle Republique newspaper. “She talked about a selfie. I thought it was very dangerous for the person involved, for Benalla, and that he could lose his job for doing that. I found it a bit pathetic for one of Macron’s bodyguards to do a selfie with a waitress. I told her to keep it to herself.”
Mr Benalla, 27, had requested permission to carry a gun during the election campaign but that request was denied several times. It was finally approved in October 2017, five months after the election.
During questioning, as part of a parliamentary inquiry into his behaviour, he told senators he possessed three Glock pistols and a Remington handgun.
He has previously denied carrying a gun before Mr Macron became president, telling Le Monde he could not do so as he had no permit. Police headquarters accorded him a permit but "only in (campaign) headquarters," he said.
When asked if he ever carried the gun outside, he said, "No, never," citing a risk to Mr Macron’s reputation.
Mr Benalla’s lawyer, Laurent-Franck Liénard, told AFP the selfie story was part of a concerted attempt to smear his client’s reputation. “Leave him alone,” Mr Liénard said.