French authorities are investigating accusations that government ministers and others dined in secret at luxury restaurants and clubs in violation of Covid-19 restrictions.
The Paris prosecutor’s office said an investigation was opened Sunday into possible charges of endangerment and undeclared labour, adding that it was seeking to identify the organisers and participants of the alleged gatherings.
The probe followed an undercover report aired on French TV network M6 over the weekend of luxury restaurants in affluent parts of Paris opening their back doors to “privileged” diners in breach of lockdown restrictions. The report included an interview with an unidentified man who claimed he had eaten in two or three clandestine restaurants “with a certain number of ministers”.
French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin immediately ordered an investigation, saying gatherings in restaurants that break restrictions are “totally unacceptable”.
"There are not two types of citizens – those who have the right to party and those who do not," he said.
Government members have denied knowledge of such wrongdoing.
Restaurants have been closed in France since October to slow the spread of Covid-19 with the lockdown measures tightening last month due to a sharp rise in cases.
The prosecutor’s office on Monday said that the investigation would continue despite reports that the man featured in the documentary had retracted his claim.
A lawyer for Pierre-Jean Chalençon, the owner of the Palais Vivienne who has since been identified by media as the interviewee in the M6 report, said in a a statement sent to AFP late Sunday that his client was only showing "humour" and a "sense of the absurd".
Government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on LCI television Sunday night that authorities have been investigating reports of clandestine parties and restaurants for months and that 200 suspects have been identified who are facing “heavy punishment”.
Ministers “have a duty to be totally irreproachable and exemplary”, said Attal.
Restaurants and other businesses in France that have been forced to close during the health crisis can receive up to €10,000 ($12,000) a month, or compensation equal to 20 percent of their revenue from 2019, capped at €200,000 per month.
But many owners say the money is not enough to make up for lost sales as they have to keep paying rent.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)