French police detain the Paris chef and businessman named in ‘secret dinners’ scandal

French police on Friday detained for questioning chef Christophe Leroy and businessman Pierre-Jean Chalencon after accusations they organised clandestine restaurant dinners for top figures in defiance of Covid-19 restrictions, prosecutors said.

French police detain the Paris chef and businessman named in 'secret dinners' scandal
Illustration photo: Martin Bureau/AFP

The two men, along with Leroy’s spouse, were interrogated for several hours by investigators before being released.

“At this stage of the investigation, there is no evidence that indicates any members of the government took part in the dinners being investigated,” prosecutors said.

The M6 private television channel last week 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.

Participants were shown enjoying caviar and champagne at the even costing 220 euros(260 dollars) per person.

All restaurants and cafes have been closed in France for eating in for the last five months. 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.

Chalencon, who owns the luxury Palais Vivienne venue in the centre of Paris that was allegedly used for such an event, had told the channel that several such dinners had taken place and even ministers had attended.

The long-haired businessman, a prominent collector of memorabilia, later backtracked from this remark and the government has vehemently denied that any ministers have been involved.

Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said Sunday that a criminal probe had been opened into putting the lives of others at risk.

Police on Thursday searched the premises of the Palais Vivienne and a similar search had been carried on Wednesday at the home of Christophe Leroy.

Leroy’s lawyer Thierry Fradet said his client had submitted documents that showed that any dinners he had organised were in private homes – in line with the current rules – and not secret restaurants.

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France vows to tackle motorbike ‘rodeos’ after children injured

The French government has pledged a new crackdown against illicit motorbike cruising by youths in suburbs across the country, after two children were seriously injured by a rider near Paris.

France vows to tackle motorbike 'rodeos' after children injured

The rowdy late-night races and stunts known as “rodeos” have become increasingly popular in particular in low-income neighbourhoods, leading to complaints about traffic and noise from local officials and many residents.

On Friday evening, a 10-year-old girl and an 11-year-old boy were hit by a rider while playing tag outside their home in Pontoise, northwest of the capital.

French daily Le Figaro reported on Monday that the girl suffered a blow to the head and remained in serious condition in hospital, while the boy had a broken leg.

The accident came after a 19-year-old man was killed in June after being hit by a bike rider in the western city of Rennes.

“I have asked the police to step up their interventions this month,” Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said in the southern city of Marseille.

Nonetheless the rodeos are often tolerated or defended as a gritty urban subculture that provides an outlet for disaffected youths, with an upcoming film, “Rodeo”, that appears to glorify the gatherings and  generated a strong buzz at the Cannes film festival last May.

Police have carried out 8,000 operations to break up rodeos in the past two months, leading to 1,200 arrests and the seizure of around 700 motorbikes and other vehicles including all-terrain “quads”.

In 2018, parliament passed a law increasing penalties for the riders to up to five years in prison.