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French police have searched the homes and offices of French officials including the former prime minister as part of an investigation into the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.
Current and former ministers have been targeted by at least 90 formal legal complaints from civic groups and members of the public over their response to the health emergency.
Investigators targeted the home of former PM Édouard Philippe on Thursday as well as the current health minister, Olivier Véran, the former health minister Agnès Buzyn, the former government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye and the head of France’s health authority, Jérôme Salomon.
Salomon became known as Monsieur Covid for his daily health briefings at the height of the epidemic in March and April.
The searches came hours after President Emmanuel Macron announced further Covid-19 restrictions including a night-time curfew in the Paris region and eight other cities put on “maximum alert” after a second wave of infections.
The curfew, from 9pm to 6am, begins from midnight on Saturday morning, will last at least four weeks and could be extended until 1 December, Macron said.
Further details of the measure were expected to be given by the prime minister, Jean Castex, and Véran on Thursday.
Two formal investigations are under way into the French government’s response to Covid-19 – one administrative and one criminal – into French ministers’ and officials’ handling of the crisis.
Ministers can only be held accountable for their actions while in office by the court of justice of the republic (CJR), which is an administrative tribunal.
A judicial inquiry was opened in June to examine the validity of dozens of complaints, nine of which were passed to the general prosecutor, François Molins, for further investigation. The CJR opened a formal inquiry headed by Molins the following month for “abstaining from combatting a disaster”, a charge punishable under article 223-7 of France’s penal code.
A separate preliminary criminal investigation, opened in June, is being handled by Paris’s public prosecutor, Rémy Heitz. The criminal investigation is specific and limited and will not look at “political or administrative responsibility” but whether decision-makers had committed “possible criminal offences” including involuntary homicide or injury and endangering, Heitz told journalists.
The charge requires proof that those accused decided “intentionally” not to act in the face of the growing Covid-19 emergency. It is an accusation created in 2000 as another form of France’s crime of “non-assistance to a person in danger”, which applies to an immediate failure to act to save someone’s life. Investigators must show the actions of the ministers and officials under investigation was wilfully “absent” rather than negligent or mistaken.
As well as the provision of masks and equipment, the inquiry will examine alleged failures to introduce virus protection measures in workplaces and set up sufficient testing to diagnose those contaminated with the virus.
In June, Heitz said investigators would look into the level of scientific knowledge of the disease French officials had access to at the time they made decisions about regulations, masks and testing. He suggested if there was evidence of criminal wrongdoing it would probably be found to be unintentional, but added that this was “a hypothesis”.
The first complaints were lodged a few days after the beginning of France’s two-month lockdown in March and originate mostly from individuals, doctors’ associations, police officers and prison personnel and detainees, among others. Some of the complaints relate to masks and whether ministers misled the country in saying they were not useful back in March, only to announce they were obligatory some time later. The complaints also accuse ministers and officials of “inconsistent measures” taken at state level and the “lack of application of WHO recommendations”.
Other complaints relate to shortages of medical equipment.
In September, the collective Victims of the Coronavirus in France – representing 200 people – brought a complaint against Castex accusing him and the government of “navigating by sight” in the face of the epidemic.
Source: The Guardian
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