France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin on Sunday asked police to investigate reports of high-end clandestine dinners in Paris after a controversial television report on Friday. He has called for the prosecution of the organisers as well as participants if they are confirmed to have flouted Covid restrictions on the opening of cafés and restaurants.
The M6 TV channel broadcast a report on Friday evening about high-class "clandestine parties" in Paris, with guests not wearing masks, despite the fact that restaurants have been closed since the end of October and France has just entered a third national lockdown.
In the report, one of the organisers of these dinners, whose identity has yet to be confirmed, claims that ministers are present during these meals, which cost between 160 and 490 euros per person.
Pierre-Jean Chalençon, the owner of the Palais Vivienne venue in central Paris, and now identified as the "anonymous source" which informed M6 that government ministers were among those participating in the illegal dinner parties, has since explained that he was joking. He now admits that no ministers were present.
In the footage, filmed with a hidden camera in a place described as "a clandestine restaurant located in an upper class" districts of the capital, it is possible to distinguish participants and waiters who are not wearing masks and do not respect social distancing.
M6 also obtained footage of a paying party, where dozens of guests appear without masks, some kissing, before sharing caviar and champagne.
These facts have not been verified, but they are already causing indignation, while restaurants remain closed as part of the effort to curb the Covid-19 epidemic, and their customers must settle for take-away sales.
The Paris police prefecture has opened an investigation at the request of Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin.
"Following the M6 report, I asked the Prefect of Police to check the accuracy of the facts reported and, if they are verified, to prosecute the organisers and participants of these clandestine dinners," the interior minister said on Twitter on Sunday.
"There is no such thing as a free pass for ministers," said the Minister of Economy and Finance, Bruno Le Maire, speaking on RTL radio.
"There are journalistic investigations that show that there are clandestine restaurants, and all this information must be passed on to the police so that they can be closed down," reacted Marlène Schiappa, the Minister for Citizenship on Europe 1 radio.
A wish shared by a number of users of the social network Twitter, who posted the hashtag #OnVeutLesNoms or #WeWantNames.
The police have also been asked to crackdown on large outdoor gatherings which flout the Covid restrictions.
For example, on Saturday, 150 gathered for a party in a disused hangar in Fuveau in the south of France, near Aix-en-Provence. Police broke up the party and imposed fines.
Earlier in the week, police were called to break up a group of 200 to 300 people gathered on the riverside in Lyon, most of the participants students aged between 15 and 25. The organisers are expected at a court hearing later this month.