PARIS — The footage is striking.
In the same scenic Paris square that the writer Ernest Hemingway once called home, a protest erupted during France’s annual May Day holiday. This part, at least, is no surprise: May 1 is International Workers’ Day, typically marked by massive labor demonstrations that can bring the city to a standstill. That was especially the case this year, in the midst of President Emmanuel Macron’s sweeping market reforms.
But what was a surprise is the degree of violence exhibited by one man, in particular — and who, exactly, this man turned out to be.
Video footage first published by France’s Le Monde newspaper depicts none other than one of Macron’s security aides, Alexandre Benalla, dragging a woman by the neck away from a protest scene, where national police officers were already teargassing a small group. After a beat, Benalla appears back on camera, this time to attack a young man the police had already dragged a fair amount.
The root of the scandal is this: Benalla is not a police officer; he was only dressed like one, wearing the type of visor they wear. According to Le Monde, he had taken a day off and had requested to “observe” police operations during the May Day protests. As the video shows, police did not intervene to stop Benalla.
Interviewed Thursday on French television, police officials could not explain why. “An observer doesn’t act like that,” said Philippe Capon, a spokesman for a large police union, speaking on BFM-TV.
But the context, Capon said, could have presented Benalla with an opportunity to abuse his position. “He was an observer from the Elysee,” Capon said. “When police officials hear the word ‘Elysee,’ there is a particular apprehension.”
The fact that Benalla was given a two-week suspension as a punishment immediately drew the ire of political opposition leaders, as well as allegations of a coverup. On Thursday, Macron stayed unusually silent on what French media have already christened “the Benalla Affair” when reporters questioned him during a visit to the Dordogne in central France.
Bruno Roger-Petit, a spokesman for the Elysee Palace, told French media Thursday that Benalla’s punishment was the “most serious” ever given to a presidential aide.
But public outcry multiplied once France’s BFM TV network reported Thursday that Benalla had participated in security services at the Pantheon burial of Holocaust survivor and noted feminist Simone Veil, as well as in the security operation surrounding the French national football team’s victory parade — earlier this week.
Prominent members of Macron’s government struggled to explain the situation, especially when pressed on the question of a potential legal double standard that had applied to an administration official.
Amid the outcry Thursday, the French public prosecutor opened an inquiry into the Benalla case, an investigation that could ultimately lead to charges against him, as well as further embarrassment to the Elysee Palace.
Macron’s critics seized the opportunity to do precisely that, mostly to decry the persona of a president often called “Jupiterian,” out of touch or “the president of the rich.” Earlier in the summer, Macron came under fire for publicly scolding a sardonic high school student who addressed him by a nickname.
“When you are at the Elysee, you have to set an example,” said Laurent Wauquiez, the hard-line leader of Les Républicains, France’s mainstream conservative party, speaking Thursday on France’s Europe 1 radio. Wauquiez, whose stances often mimic those of the far-right National Front, has sought to challenge centrist but pro-business Macron from the right.
“Today, one has the feeling that at the Elysee, they think they are above the law,” Wauquiez said.
This article was written by James McAuley from The Washington Post
Murder Trial of Former Navy SEAL Postponed Until May 2019
SAN DIEGO (AP) — A military judge has postponed the murder trial of a Navy SEAL accused of fatally stabbing an Iraqi war prisoner.
The three-month delay came Wednesday after defense lawyers asked for more time to go over the prosecution’s evidence.
Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher has pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from a 2017 deployment to Iraq.
Prosecutors say he killed a teenage Islamic State fighter under his care and then held his reenlistment ceremony with the corpse.
They also accuse Gallagher of shooting two civilians in Iraq and firing inadvertently into crowds.
Defense attorney Phil Stackhouse said his team has received more than 1,000 pages of material from the prosecution since the end of January.
The trial has been reset for May 28.
Tech Mogul, Marsy’s Law Advocate Faces Drug Charges In Las Vegas
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Authorities in Nevada have filed felony drug charges against a California tech billionaire and victim rights advocate arrested in August with what police said were briefcases full of drugs.
Broadcom Corp. co-founder Henry Nicholas III and a woman arrested with him, Ashley Fargo, were named in a complaint filed Wednesday in state court in Las Vegas.
Their attorneys deny Nicholas and Fargo committed any crime.
Police reported finding Fargo unconscious in a room at the Encore resort with cases with marijuana, heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and tablets believed to be ecstasy.
Attorney David Chesnoff said Nicholas will fight the charges and noted his philanthropy and business accomplishments.
Nicholas has funded campaigns for states to adopt the so-called “Marsy’s Law” victims’ bill of rights.
Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Convicted Of All Counts In US Criminal Case, Faces Life In Prison
NEW YORK (AP) — Mexico’s most notorious drug lord, Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera, better known as “El Chapo,” was convicted Tuesday of running an industrial-scale smuggling operation after a three-month trial packed with Hollywood-style tales of grisly killings, political payoffs, cocaine hidden in jalapeno cans, jewel-encrusted guns and a naked escape with his mistress through a tunnel.
Guzman listened to a drumbeat of guilty verdicts on drug and conspiracy charges that could put the 61-year-old escape artist behind bars for decades in a maximum-security U.S. prison selected to thwart another one of the breakouts that made him a folk hero in his native country.
A jury whose members’ identities were kept secret reached a verdict after deliberating six days in the expansive case, sorting through what authorities called an “avalanche” of evidence gathered since the late 1980s that Guzman and his murderous Sinaloa drug cartel made billions in profits by smuggling tons of cocaine, heroin, meth and marijuana into the U.S.
As the judge read the verdict, Guzman stared at the jury without expression. When the jurors were discharged, he leaned back in his chair to catch the eye of his wife, who gave him a subtle thumbs-up.
U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan lauded the jury’s meticulous attention to detail and the “remarkable” approach it took toward deliberations. Cogan said it made him “very proud to be an American.”
Evidence showed drugs poured into the U.S. through secret tunnels or hidden in tanker trucks, concealed in the undercarriage of passenger cars and packed in rail cars passing through legitimate points of entry — suggesting that a border wall wouldn’t be much of a worry.
The prosecution’s case against Guzman, a roughly 5½-foot figure whose nickname translates to “Shorty,” included the testimony of several turncoats and other witnesses. Among them were Guzman’s former Sinaloa lieutenants, a computer encryption expert and a Colombian cocaine supplier who underwent extreme plastic surgery to disguise his appearance.
One Sinaloa insider described Mexican workers getting contact highs while packing cocaine into thousands of jalapeno cans — shipments that totaled 25 to 30 tons of cocaine worth $500 million each year. Another testified how Guzman sometimes acted as his own sicario, or hitman, punishing a Sinaloan who dared to work for another cartel by kidnapping him, beating and shooting him and having his men bury the victim while he was still alive, gasping for air.
The defense case lasted just half an hour. Guzman’s lawyers did not deny his crimes as much as argue he was a fall guy for government witnesses who were more evil than he was.
In closing arguments, defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman urged the jury not to believe government witnesses who “lie, steal, cheat, deal drugs and kill people.”
U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue called the conviction “a victory for the American people who suffered so much” while the defendant poured poison over the borders. He expected Guzman to get life without parole.
“It is a sentence from which there is no escape and no return,” Donoghue told a news conference outside the courthouse, through snow and sleet.
Lichtman said the defense “fought like complete savages” and will appeal the case. “No matter who the defendant is, you still have to fight to the death.”
He said his client was a positive thinker who “doesn’t give up.”
Upon hearing the verdict, Guzman was “as cool as a cucumber,” Lichtman added. “Honest to god, we were more upset than he was.”
Deliberations were complicated by the trial’s vast scope. Jurors were tasked with making 53 decisions about whether prosecutors have proven different elements of the case.
The trial cast a harsh glare on the corruption that allowed the cartel to flourish. Colombian trafficker Alex Cifuentes caused a stir by testifying that former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto took a $100 million bribe from Guzman. Peña Nieto denied it, but the allegation fit a theme: politicians, army commanders, police and prosecutors, all on the take.
The tension at times was cut by some of the trial’s sideshows, such as the sight of Guzman and his wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, showing up in matching burgundy velvet blazers in a gesture of solidarity. Another day, a Chapo-size actor who played the kingpin in the TV series “Narcos: Mexico” came to watch, telling reporters that seeing the defendant flash him a smile was “surreal.”
While the trial was dominated by Guzman’s persona as a near-mythical outlaw who carried a diamond-encrusted handgun and stayed one step ahead of the law, the jury never heard from Guzman himself, except when he told the judge he wouldn’t testify.
But his sing-songy voice filled the courtroom, thanks to recordings of intercepted phone calls. “Amigo!” he said to a cartel distributor in Chicago. “Here at your service.”
One of the trial’s most memorable tales came from girlfriend Lucero Guadalupe Sanchez Lopez, who testified she was in bed in a safe house with an on-the-run Guzman in 2014 when Mexican marines started breaking down his door. She said Guzman led her to a trap door beneath a bathtub that opened up to a tunnel that allowed them to escape.
Asked what he was wearing, she replied: “He was naked. He took off running. He left us behind.”
The defendant had previously escaped from jail by hiding in a laundry bin in 2001. He then got an escort from crooked police officers into Mexico City before retreating to one of his many mountainside hideaways. In 2014, he pulled off another jail break, escaping through a mile-long lighted tunnel on a motorcycle on rails.
Even when Guzman was recaptured in 2016 before his extradition to the United States, he was plotting another escape, prosecutor Andrea Goldbarg said in closing arguments.
“Why? Because he is guilty and he never wanted to be in a position where he would have to answer for his crimes,” she told the jury. “He wanted to avoid sitting right there. In front of you.”
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