Paris restaurants’ ‘secret champagne dinners during lockdown’ to be investigated
French prosecutors have launched a criminal probe after an undercover TV report showed unmasked guests enjoying clandestine champagne meals in luxury Paris restaurants, in an apparent blatant violation of Covid lockdown rules.
The controversy snowballed after one of the alleged organisers, restaurant owner Pierre-Jean Chalençon, said French ministers were among the guests – a claim he later insisted was a “joke”.
Restaurants in France have been closed since October. With the country in the midst of a third wave and more than 5,300 people in intensive care, they will not be re-opening any time soon.
However, in a hidden-camera report, M6 reporters posing as dinner guests are seen being shown into what appears to be an upmarket, secret restaurant in Paris.
“People who come here take off their masks,” says an unidentified staff member.
“Once you are through the door here, there is no Covid,” he claimed.
Menus start at €160 (£135) and go up to €460 per head, including caviar, langoustines and champagne.
The report also shows a private party at a luxury establishment where people wear no masks and fail to observe distancing rules.
“I have eaten this week in two or three restaurants that are so-called illegal restaurants with a number of ministers,” a man introduced as an organiser of a secret party says in the report.
The Paris prosecutor’s office launched a criminal investigation on Sunday into putting the lives of others at risk.
“The aim of the investigation is to verify whether parties were organised in violation of health regulations and to determine who the organisers and participants may have been,” said Paris prosecutor Rémy Heitz.
The hashtag #OnVeutLesNoms (We Want the Names) went viral on Twitter, amid frenzied speculation over who attended such dinners.
One source was later named by media and bloggers as Pierre-Jean Chalençon, who runs the luxury Palais Vivienne event venue in the centre of Paris. The Palais appears to be the venue for the private soirée in the footage.
In a statement sent to AFP through his lawyer late on Sunday, Mr Chalençon implicitly acknowledged he was the source but also appeared to retract the claim ministers were involved, saying he was only showing “humour” and the “sense of the absurd”.
The flamboyant character, a Napoleon fan and collector, had already been recorded in February on YouTube saying he intended to launch a “club of gastronomes” at his venue and claiming that government spokesman Gabriel Attal, a rising cabinet star, would be attending such a dinner “soon”.
Mr Attal’s entourage vehemently denied the claim on Sunday, saying the first he learned of it was on Twitter. “He doesn’t know Mr Chalençon and naturally never participated in any soirée whatsoever,” a source told AFP.
Mr Attal told LCI: “I don’t believe a word of [his claims].”
But deputy interior minister Marlene Schiappa told French TV that if ministers or lawmakers were involved “they should be fined and penalised like any other citizen”.
Economy minister Bruno Le Maire insisted: “All the ministers, without exception, respect the rules.”
Interior minister Gerald Darmanin said if true, anyone found to have attended such dinners should be prosecuted.
“There are not two types of citizens – those who have the right to party and those who do not,” he said.
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