Prominent French journalist summoned by police for reporting on corruption in Macron’s government - The Washington Post
Photo credits: Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images, taken from the Washington Post web-site Police summoned for questioning a senior correspondent for France’s "Le Monde" following a series of reports on a corruption scandal involving President Emmanuel Macron, the newspaper said Wednesday, as The Washington Post reported. Ariane Chemin (photo above) first broke the news in July 2018 of what’s become known as the “Benalla affair,” a story about misconduct by one of Macron’s former security aides that has launched allegations of a coverup within the Elysee Palace. France’s national security police division has demanded that she appear for questioning on May 29, triggering further concerns about press freedoms in the Macron era. In February, the same police division raided — without a warrant — the offices of Mediapart, another French news outlet, over its own Benalla reporting. “We will obviously protect our information, and we express our concerns over this summoning,” Le Monde’s editorial director, Luc Bronner, wrote in a Wednesday editorial. “The public interest requires being able to investigate the entourage and links maintained by employees of the Élysée or Matignon,” he said, referring to the seats of the president and prime minister. An Elysee spokeswoman declined to comment. Chemin stands accused of “committing or attempting to commit the offense of revealing or disclosing, by any means, any information that could lead, directly or indirectly, to the identification of a person as a member of special forces,” according to a copy of the police summons shared with The Washington Post. The document also notes that if charged, she could be punished with jail time. “It’s a very bad climate for the press,” said Chemin in an interview, noting that she has worked as a journalist since 1995. “This is the first time that the press is being treated in such a way.” Alexandre Benalla, one of the president’s confidants and bodyguards, was filmed impersonating a police officer and beating protesters during an annual labor demonstration in May 2018. Macron didn’t fire Benalla until the summer, after news reports brought attention to the incident. His administration has struggled ever since to escape the controvery. As subsequent reports from Chemin and others have shown, the story was more than a security officer gone rogue. It has since expanded into a web of palace intrigue, complete with mysterious diplomatic passports held by Benalla, ties between the 27-year-old bodyguard and a Russian oligarch and suspensions and resignations across the French government. In his editorial, Bronner said police have targeted Le Monde’s reporting on a contract Benalla allegedly negotiated between Chokri Wakrim, a former French air force officer, and Iskander Makhmudov, a Russian billionaire with suspected mafia ties. Public prosecutors have opened a corruption charge against Wakrim, who was also suspended from the air force. What fanned the flames of public fascination even further was that Wakrim’s wife, Marie-Elodie Poitout, was the head of security at Matignon. She was forced to resign in February after she confessed to having received Benalla at the couple’s Paris home after Macron suspended him last summer. Macron survived a vote of no confidence in July 2018, but his government was blasted by a Senate report released in February for its conduct in the Benalla affair. For Chemin, the irony is that Macron, as a presidential contender in 2017, was the only major candidate who did not attack the media. But the Benalla affair changed his tone, she said, noting a July 2018 speech when he said the press “does not seek the truth.” She said the most shocking development to date were the allegations, which she reported in Le Monde, that one of Macron’s aides actively fabricated and circulated a fake video to distract attention from Benalla at the beginning of the scandal, using images of unrelated individuals. “The fact that you could have someone at the heart of power capable of doing this is to me unbelievable,” she said. Her summons marked the latest plot point in the already rocky relationship between the French president and the press corps, which often complains that Macron has constrained access to the executive branch. This week, two regional newspapers boycotted a group interview with Macron after refusing to allow the president to review quotes before publication, a common practice in France. In 2018, France ranked 32 out of 180 on the global press freedom index compiled by Reporters Without Borders. The Washington Post
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