The M6 private channel on Friday broadcast a reportage based on footage recorded with a hidden camera purportedly from a clandestine restaurant in a high-end area of Paris where neither the staff nor the diners were wearing masks.
All restaurants and cafes remain closed in France for eating in and the country this week began a new limited nationwide lockdown to deal with surging Covid-19 infections.
The hashtag #OnVeutLesNoms (We Want the Names) went viral on Twitter, as speculation swirled over who may have attended such dinners.
Caviar, champagne, menus de grands chefs et retrait du masque obligatoire…Nos journalistes ont pu pénétrer dans ces fêtes clandestines de haut standing qui se tiennent actuellement à Paris.
🎥@frvignolle Armelle Mehani et @CyrielleStadler en exclusivité pour le 📺#19h45 pic.twitter.com/ClXpIWrVwZ
— M6info (@m6info) April 2, 2021
Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said Sunday that a criminal probe had been opened after the reportage into putting the lives of others at risk.
The investigation would assess “if these evenings were organised in defiance of health rules and to determine who were the possible organisers and participants.”
One source interviewed by M6, whose identity was not revealed and whose voice was distorted, told the channel that such evenings had taken place and guests present had even included ministers.
The source was later identified by media and bloggers as Pierre-Jean Chalençon, who runs the luxury Palais Vivienne event venue in the centre of Paris.
In statement sent to AFP through his lawyer late Sunday, 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”.
But the report was no laughing matter for members of the government, days after President Emmanuel Macron ordered new restrictions including a brief closure of schools to keep cases down before the effects of the vaccine drive kick in.
Chalençon had been recorded saying in February that government spokesman Gabriel Attal, a rising cabinet star, would be attending such a dinner. Attal vehemently denied the claim.
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.”
M Schiappa: "Si des ministres avaient enfreint les règles, il faudrait qu'ils soient pénalisés comme chaque citoyen". B le Maire: "Je suis sûr qu'aucun ministre n'a de passe-droit, que ce restaurateur donne des noms, s'il est si bien informé." @BFMTV #soiréesclandestines
— Anne Saurat-Dubois (@annesaurat) April 4, 2021
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said those involved in such dinners should be prosecuted if the allegations in the report were true.
“There are not two types of citizens — those who have the right to party and those who do not,” he said.