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New scandal around fired Macron aide troubles France

FILE - In this Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018 file picture former President Macron's security aide Alexandre Benalla appears before the French Senate Laws Commission prior to his hearing, in Paris, France. France's Foreign Ministry is threatening legal action against a former security aide to President Emmanuel Macron, amid reports that he continued using his diplomatic passports after being fired for beating a protester. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus, File)

PARIS (AP) — Alexandre Benalla hasn’t finished causing trouble for the French president.

Emmanuel Macron’s former security aide is again at the heart of a political scandal, just as the president is struggling against yellow vest protests that have undercut his legitimacy at home and abroad.

Benalla, 27, was sacked in July after public uproar over his beating of a protester , and courted controversy by showing off a gun and other perks of his murky but powerful position. Benalla’s actions — and the way Macron’s office clumsily handled them — caused the French leader’s first major presidential crisis and discredited his efforts to clean up politics.

This week, news reports suggest Benalla is leveraging his former presidential connections for personal gain.

Le Monde reported that Benalla traveled to Chad and Cameroon this month for high-level meetings, and investigative website Mediapart reported that he used diplomatic passports to do so . The visits came just before Macron himself visited Chad, raising questions about whether Benalla was acting as some sort of intermediary.

Benalla has said the trip was totally private and rejected suggestions he was abusing his former position, according to French media reports.

Macron himself has stayed silent. An official with the presidential palace insisted that Benalla no longer has any links to Macron’s office. The official said Macron remains “determined to break with the system of intermediaries” long used by French leaders, notably in former colonies in Africa.

The presidential palace said in a statement Friday that it asked the Foreign Ministry to take “all appropriate measures” to address the possible misuse of the passports.

The Foreign Ministry threatened possible legal action. Ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said it asked Benalla in July to return his two diplomatic passports but he hasn’t complied. In a statement Thursday night, she said that based on the recent media reports, the ministry “is examining next steps, including legal ones.”

Benalla was already handed preliminary charges over the protester beating in May.

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