French government ministers investigated over coronavirus pandemic

3 July 2020, 22:33

Former Prime Minister Édouard Philippe is among those deemed worth investigatins
Former Prime Minister Édouard Philippe is among those deemed worth investigatins. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Three current or former French government ministers will be investigated over their handling of the coronavirus crisis, including former Prime Minister Édouard Philippe.

A special French court has ordered the hearing after an unprecedented 90 complaints were filed in the Court of Justice of the Republic over recent months.

Among those deemed worth investigating include Mr Philippe, who resigned as prime minister hours before the announcement, Health Minister Olivier Véran and the former health minister, Agnès Buzyn.

The group have been accused of "failing to fight a disaster", and could face up to two years in prison or fines if tried and convicted.

Covid-19 patients, doctors, prison personnel, police officers and many others submitted complaints, notably over shortages of masks and other protective equipment as coronavirus tore through Europe.

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In normal circumstances, the court, which deals with cases against top officials, would only receive a few complaints in a year.

But, in a statement on Friday, it said it had thrown out 44 of the 90 complaints, while it is still studying 37 of them.

The "failing to fight a disaster charge" was the only one retained among the dozens of complaints, which included allegations of manslaughter and endangering lives, both of which would carry harsher prison terms.

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Ten of the cases were closed because they did not provide enough justification for an investigation, according to a judicial official.

The court said another 34 cases, targeting different government ministers, were thrown out for technical problems.

President Emmanuel Macron and his government have acknowledged mask shortages and other missteps during the crisis.

France was also short of testing capacity and criticised for not imposing lockdown restrictions sooner.

Mr Macron himself cannot be targeted by lawsuits while in office because sitting presidents have immunity from prosecution.

The Court of Justice of the Republic is the only French court where government ministers can be tried for their actions while in office.

It was created in the wake of a major health scandal in the 1990s.

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The new investigation is separate from dozens of lawsuits filed in other French courts against nursing homes or others accused of mismanagement during the pandemic.

France has reported the fifth-highest number of virus deaths worldwide - 29,896 - with about half of them occurring in nursing homes.

Meanwhile, it has officially recorded 204,222 positive Covid-19 infections.

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