French First Lady Brigitte Macron offered the services of her bodyguard to one of the most powerful figures in the French paparazzi business in a leaked phone call, say French reports.
Heaping further embarrassment, Mrs Macron, 68, also appears to criticise the French judiciary in the taped call with Michèle Marchand, 74, often dubbed the “paparazzi queen”.
The conversation reportedly took place just after Ms Marchand was released from custody over a criminal case against the former president Nicolas Sarkozy.
Ms Marchand, also known widely as “Mimi”, works closely with a host of rich and powerful figures from the worlds of politics and entertainment, including President Macron and his wife.
During Mr Macron’s 2017 presidential campaign, she was credited with making the centrist candidate and his wife more personable, even persuading Brigitte to be photographed in a swimsuit in supposedly “secretly taken” pictures. When Mr Macron won, “Mimi” was pictured in the president’s office making a “v” sign.
However, her fortunes waned when she was charged in June with "witness tampering” and “criminal association” in relation to a probe into alleged corruption by Mr Sarkozy, who denies allegations that he took money from Muammar Gaddafi, the former Libyan dictator.
This week, investigative website Mediapart published extracts of a conversation between the two women dated July 29 after Mrs Marchand had spent a month behind bars for violating her judicial supervision.
Apparently to avoid detection, Mrs Macron phoned the controversial businesswoman who runs celebrity photo agency Bestimage using a “friend’s phone” but the exchange was recorded by judges.
According to Mediapart, the First Lady is cited as saying: “Impossible to phone you, due to the telephone, of course.”
She went on to say that she had lunched with Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, a close friend of Mrs Marchand, a month earlier and that “together we said to each other (your treatment) is disgusting”.
Ms Marchand responded: “All that is against Sarko. At some point, it will have to stop.”
In September, Mr Sarkozy was handed a one-year prison sentence after being found guilty of illegal campaign financing over his failed 2012 re-election bid. In March, he was sentenced to three years in jail – two suspended – for seeking to bribe a judge. The Right-winger denounced the trial as a politically-motivated attempt to drag him “through the mud”.
In the taped call, Mrs Macron said that she had spoken to Mr Sarkozy, who had told her that investigating judges were “out to get him” ever since his failed bid to scrap France’s system of inquisitorial magistrates in 2009.
“It’s been awful,” she said. “I don’t know how he stays together.”
Michèle Marchand helped managed the Macron's PR in his presidential campaign
The French First Lady can then be heard apparently offering the services of her bodyguard, known only as “lieutenant Fabien” to Ms Marchand.
“I just wanted to say that if you have trouble or stuff, then Fabien can…”
“OK, Ok,” replied Ms Marchand. “If anything came up, I’ll phone Fabien.”
In March, celebrity magazine Gala published a story on the “good-looking” 44-year old gendarme who has served in Afghanistan and Iraq, saying his lightning rise through the ranks at the presidential palace had “made some people jealous”.
Contacted about the leaked phone call, Pierre-Olivier Costa, head of Mrs Macron’s private office, said: “I formally deny that Mrs Macron offered the slightest security service to Mrs Marchand.”
He told the Telegraph: "We invite you to compare the comments supposedly made by Brigitte Macron (in inverted commas in the article) and the way in which the author of the article interprets them (in a tendencious manner)."
The former partner of an armed robber, Mrs Marchand has spent time in jail, ran lesbian nightclubs in the 1990s and was once sacked as a magazine editor for inventing an interview with the bodyguard of Princess Diana.
She was instrumental in organising an interview last November with one of the main witnesses against Mr Sarkozy, Ziad Takieddine, in which he withdrew his allegations against the former head of state.
Before retracting his claims, Mr Takieddine had always alleged that he delivered suitcases stuffed with €5 million in cash from Tripoli to Mr Sarkozy’s chief of staff in 2006 and 2007.
The judges in June said that intermediaries had offered to pay Mr Takieddine in exchange for the interview in Paris Match, whose then-owner Arnaud Lagardère is close to the Sarkozys.
They slammed the move as a bid to tamper a witness and to “mislead or even publicly discredit investigating judges in charge of this particularly sensitive affair”.
Mrs Marchand has denied wrongdoing and said she was involved in the interview as an “investigative journalist”.
During the taped call, Ms Marchand said: “They thought they could break me. But I can’t tell them things that don’t exist. I didn’t do what they reproach me for. And I’m an epiphenomenon in this story.”
Mrs Macron responded: “You must hold, hold on.”