‘Involuntary homicide?’: Prosecutors in France launch probe into state’s handling of coronavirus crisis

The chief prosecutor in Paris said on Tuesday that he has opened a probe into the French state's handling of the coronavirus outbreak, with possible charges including "involuntary homicide" and "endangering life".

'Involuntary homicide?': Prosecutors in France launch probe into state's handling of coronavirus crisis
Photo: AFP

The investigation, which comes after complaints were filed by members of the public, is not aimed at determining “political or administrative responsibility,” Remy Heitz told AFP, but whether national authorities had committed “possible criminal offences.”

President Emmanuel Macron, as head of state, has immunity from prosecution and is not a target of the inquiries.

The statement from the prosecutor said that 62 complaints or reports had been received, mostly concerning endangerment of the lives of others, involuntary homicide or injury and failing to fight a dangerous disaster.

The complaints relate to the alleged failure to put in place anti-virus protections at the workplace, to provide face masks to reduce infection, and to roll out testing to diagnose carriers of the virus.

The Paris prosecutor's office has jurisdiction over issues of national public health, and over crimes allegedly committed within the borders of the city, where most of the state authorities targeted by Heitz's inquiry are based.

They include Jérôme Salomon, head of the Santé Publique France health agency, who has gained widespread prominence from his nightly summaries of the virus's toll at the height of the outbreak.

His agency will also be a focus of the inquiry, as is the health ministry and the national prison administration.

Old age homes, many of which are privately operated, are not part of the probe.

Heitz said the investigation arose from complaints lodged by associations, labour unions and individuals.

Possible charges of involuntary homicide, involuntary injury, endangering life, failure to combat a threat and non-assistance to persons in danger are now being examined by a branch of the prosecutor's office dedicated to alleged threats to public health.

“If there is criminal wrongdoing, it will probably have been – it's a hypothesis – unintentional,” Heitz said.

The coronavirus death toll in France stands at 29,209 – lower than the UK on 40,597 and Italy on 33,964 but considerably higher than Germany (8,801) and the Netherlands (6,031).

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French police holding 10 over Channel boat disaster

French police are holding 10 people suspected of involvement in the November 2021 Channel drowning of migrants in which 27 people died, a judicial source said on Thursday.

French police holding 10 over Channel boat disaster

One has been charged with manslaughter and people-trafficking, and the nine others were to be taken before a judge who will decide whether to charge them as well, the source said, asking not to be named.

Police had arrested 15 people suspected of involvement overnight Sunday to Monday, but released five of them without charges.

The death of the 27 in late November was the worst disaster in the Channel since 2018, when the narrow strait became a key route for migrants from Africa, the Middle East and Asia who have been increasingly using small boats to reach England from France.

Among the 27 — aged seven to 47 — were 16 Iraqi Kurds, four Afghans, three Ethiopians, one Somali, one Egyptian and one Vietnamese migrant.

Only two people survived the disaster, which sparked tension between the British and French governments, with President Emmanuel Macron vowing France would not allow the Channel to become a “cemetery”.