In a highly embarrassing Inspector Clouseau-style blunder, the presidential guards from the elite GSPR unit only realised the guns were absent upon arrival at Rio de Janeiro Airport.
They usually travel with a secured briefcase containing an array of firearms. But when they sought to present the weapons to customs officials, they were nowhere to be seen.
“They searched the (presidential) Airbus with a fine tooth comb, to no avail,” according to French satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaîné. It later transpired the guns had been left at the Elysée Palace in Paris.
This meant that for the duration of the trip, the bodyguards’ only means of protecting the French president were their “bare hands”, Le Canard reported. “In police memory, it’s a first,” one elite officer was cited as saying.
The bodyguard in charge of the weapons was soon identified and fired from the unit because he reportedly tried to blame the neglect on somebody else.
Government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said: “A bag of guns did indeed remain at the Elysée. It’s true it was left behind, it’s true it was considered a serious fault on the part of the officer in charge and so his division commander fired him upon his return,” she said.
But she denied the president’s entire protection unit was unarmed during the trip, saying the bodyguards carried “replacement guns”.
Ironically, before the incident, Mr Hollande’s bodyguards had complained to French media that he was making their life hell by wanting to remain at all costs a “normal” president close to the people, even if that meant compromising his own security.
They were unhappy with his snap decision to take the train to a recent Brussels summit and return to Paris by car, insisting on stopping at all traffic lights. His penchant for shaking hands and posing with well wishers had them in a cold sweat, it was reported.
“He hasn’t taken the measure of the weight of constraints of a head of state,” one told Le Parisien. “If he continues like that, we’re heading for a catastrophe.”