Official speeches and statements - January 3, 2019
Diplomatic passports are travel documents intended to facilitate visits made by their holders as part of their official duties. They do not confer any privileges or immunity on their holders, whether they are on French territory or abroad.
Contrary to the allegations or insinuations made by Mr. Benalla, who has made contradictory statements in recent months, the Quai d’Orsay has made no allowances for him as regards the holding and use of his diplomatic passports. The Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, which is in constant contact with the Presidency, has taken several steps to get Mr. Benalla to return his passports.
Conditions of issue
It is normal practice for the President’s private office staff to have this type of passport, on account of the responsibilities they exercise vis-à-vis the Head of State, particularly for organizing his visits abroad.
Mr. Benalla’s first diplomatic passport was issued on June 2, 2017, for one year, expiring on June 1, 2018. This passport was renewed on May 24, 2018. The renewal was granted since it was intended for the deputy head of the President’s private office. The passport’s validity was set for the same length of time as the other passport in his possession.
He was issued with a second diplomatic passport on September 20, 2017, for five years given the length of his contract, which the Foreign Ministry asked him for. Issuing a second passport is justified in certain cases to facilitate visits made by the holder.
On May 23, 2018, Mr. Benalla undertook to return his passport at the end of his mission, as is usual practice.
Steps taken to get these passports returned once Mr. Benalla’s job at the Presidency ended
A first letter was sent on July 26, 2018 by registered post with acknowledgement of receipt, then again to another address in the French department of Eure. This letter was received by someone acting on Mr. Benalla’s behalf on August 6, 2018. Mr. Benalla cannot therefore claim he was not specifically instructed to return these documents.
In the absence of the documents being returned, a follow-up letter with acknowledgement of receipt was sent on September 10 to the same address in Eure; this time, neither Mr. Benalla nor anyone acting on his behalf accepted the document, which was sent back to the Ministry via the French postal service.
Mr. Benalla declared before the Bas Committee on September 19 that "the documents in question remained in the office I occupied at the Elysée"; this, however, has at no point been confirmed.
Invalidating Mr. Benalla’s passports
Given that the documents were not returned, the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, at the request of the Presidency of the Republic, decided to begin the procedure to invalidate Mr. Benalla’s diplomatic passports, an initiative confirmed on 8 November with the Ministry of the Interior. This type of situation justifying invalidation was unprecedented for diplomatic passports. Consequently, for purely technical reasons it was not possible for the invalidation to be registered on the IT system straightaway.
All in all, it is therefore wrong to say, as Mr. Benalla claims in his remarks reported by the press, that "no steps were taken to recover [these] passports because instructions were given to the contrary".
Contrary to Mr. Benalla’s allegations, or those of Mr. Solomon, who accompanied him on several visits and spoke to the press, information is not automatically relayed to the Quai d’Orsay when a French diplomatic passport is presented at national checkpoints. A fortiori, foreign authorities have no obligation to report to the French authorities the use of such documents once passport holders have crossed into their country.
In the same way, the assertion that "when you travel abroad on a diplomatic passport, the French embassy is aware that you are on the way" is entirely unrealistic; no obligation or system exists for this purpose.
No information about Mr. Benalla using these documents reached the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs until the reports in the press which were recently made public.
Referral of the matter to the courts
Finally, to shed full light on Mr. Benalla’s potential fraudulent use of these passports, on December 28, 2018, Mr. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, referred the matter to the Public Prosecutor on the basis of article 40 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.