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French police have interviewed the organisers of exclusive clandestine dinners that allegedly broke Covid rules as Emmanuel Macron warned ministers their behaviour must be “exemplary”.
Detectives also searched the homes of the chef who created special menus costing up to €490 (£424) a head and the owner of the restaurant venue in one of Paris’s chic districts.
However, both men have denied reports that government ministers were present at any of the special lunches, dinners or cocktail events held between last October, when France’s restaurants were ordered to close after a second coronavirus wave, and the beginning of this month.
The French TV channel M6 infiltrated one of the secret dinners at the Palais Vivienne and filmed organiser Pierre-Jean Chalençon, a Napoleonic memorabilia collector and owner of the venue, who told reporters he had dined in “two or three clandestine restaurants in the week” where he had met “a certain number” of government ministers. When questioned again, Chalençon insisted he was being funny and that it was an “April fools joke”.
At the home of the chef, Christophe Leroy, police found a number of menus offering gastronomic dishes including foie gras and lobster, champagne and fine wines.
Leroy’s lawyer, Thierry Fradet, said his client had done nothing against the coronavirus rules. He had “offered services that the law authorises because they were in private homes and not in establishments like restaurants that are open to the public,” Fradet said.
“In any case, and contrary to what has been stated in an unprofessional manner, no member of the government participated in the meals,” he added.
The lawyer also said the television journalists’ actions were “legally questionable” as they were secretly filming inside a private home without identifying themselves.
The journalists’ union at M6 defended the reporters. “As always, our journalists worked correctly and with absolute respect for the professional rules,” a spokesperson said, adding: “Other sources confirmed to us off camera that at least one member of the government was present at one of the dinners.”
On Tuesday, the interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, said that to his knowledge no minister had been a guest at the secret dinners and condemned rumours that “undermine the foundations of democracy”.
Gabriel Attal, the French government spokesperson, who was reported to have been invited to one of the clandestine restaurants, denied he had received any invitation and insisted no ministers had attended any of the private dinners or receptions.
At Thursday’s council of ministers, Macron said: “All those in a position of responsibility must be exemplary”, warning that offenders would face consequences.
A source in prime minister Jean Castex’s office told RTL he had issued the same warning that ministers had an “absolute duty of exemplarity”, adding: “If it turned out that a minister had gone to this type of party, it would be a direct resignation.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Organisers of secret Paris dinner parties say ministers did not attend | France