French prosecutors have opened an investigation into claims government ministers and other wealthy guests attended secret Paris dinners that broke Covid rules.
The scandal emerged after the television channel M6 broadcast hidden camera footage allegedly from a high-end restaurant where diners were shown enjoying caviar and champagne as part of gastronomic menus costing up to €490. The address was known only to a “privileged few”, M6 claimed.
The film showed diners failing to maintain recommendedCovid rules including not socially distancing, not wearing masks and some greeting each other with bises (kisses on the cheek). Staff were also shown without masks.
It emerged shortly after the French president, Emmanuel Macron, ordered coronavirus restrictions be extended to the whole country as the number of cases soar. All French restaurants and cafes have been closed since the end of October.
Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said an investigation had been opened into possible charges of “endangering the lives of others” and “undeclared work”. He said the inquiry would seek to “verify whether dinners and parties have been organised in disregard of health rules and to determine who were the possible organisers and participants”.
In the M6 footage, an anonymous diner, whose voice was disguised, said government ministers had been among the guests. “I’ve dined in two or three restaurants this week, so-called clandestine restaurants, with a certain number of ministers,” he said.
The diner was later identified as Pierre-Jean Chalençon, a former TV presenter, who runs the luxury Palais Vivienne event venue in Paris and is a Napoleonic aficionado and collector.
France TV suggested the venue for the “clandestine dinners” was Chalençon’s Palais Vivienne, and on Facebook the chef Christophe Leroy posted a seven-course menu for a dinner at the Palais Vivienne for 11 March 2021 costing €220 per person including wine. It included a champagne apéritif, foie gras and lobster thermidor.
Chalençon’s lawyer released a statement to AFP acknowledging that he was the diner in the M6 footage, but denying that government ministers had attended the illicit dinners. He said he had been joking and playing with “the sense of the absurd” in claiming they had in the film.
The allegations brought a swift response from government ministers. The deputy interior minister, Marlène Schiappa, told French television that if ministers or MPs had attended secret dinners they should be “fined and penalised like any other citizen”.
The economy minister, Bruno Le Maire, said: “If ministers have broken the rules, they must be punished like anyone else.” He added: “If this restaurateur is so well-informed, let him name names.”
Gérald Darmanin, the interior minister, said if reports of the dinners were true, anyone who attended should be prosecuted. “There are not two types of citizens – those who have the right to party and those who don’t,” he said.
Those who attended could be fined for not wearing masks and not respecting the national 7pm to 6am curfew.
On Twitter, the hashtag #OnVeutLesNoms (We Want Names) went viral amid public speculation over who attended the dinners.