Buzyn has been charged with “endangering the lives of others”, the prosecutor of the Republic’s Court of Justice said, but not for a second possible offence of “failure to stop a disaster”.
The former doctor said she welcomed “an excellent opportunity for me to explain myself and to establish the truth”, as she attended a hearing at the court on Friday.
She told reporters she was determined not to “let the action of the government be discredited, or my action as a minister, when we did so much to prepare our country for a global health crisis that is still ongoing.”
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Buzyn controversially said in January 2020 that there was “practically no risk” of Covid-19 spreading to France from the Chinese city of Wuhan, and then went on to say that the “risk of a spread of the coronavirus among the population is very small”.
France’s Court of Justice was created in 1993 especially to prosecute ministers, with the aim of making it easier to hold them accountable for failures in office.
The charges are a blow for the president, Emmanuel Macron, whose handling of the health crisis will face scrutiny during election campaigning next year, but the court is also likely to face allegations of judicial overreach.
Buzyn, who resigned from her post in February last year, weeks after the first Covid cases were confirmed in France, has faced criticism and ridicule over her initial statements about the pandemic.
She said in January 2020 that there was “practically no risk” of importing Covid-19 from the Chinese city at the origin of the outbreak, Wuhan, and then said the “risk of a spread of the coronavirus among the population is very small”.
A month later, as she left the ministry to launch a failed bid to become Paris mayor, she claimed that “the tsunami has yet to come”, in an apparent contradiction of her earlier statements.
Buzyn, a cancer and transplant specialist, later told a parliamentary investigation that she had alerted the president and the then prime minister, Edouard Philippe, to the potential “dangers” of Covid-19 as early as January.
The special court, called the court of justice of the republic, was created in 1993 to prosecute ministers as a way of improving accountability due to perceptions that cabinet members were able to escape legal censure for their actions in office.
Some critics accuse it of being too slow and lenient, while defenders of Buzyn see the investigation as unfair and likely to deter others from entering politics.
Philippe and the current health minister, Olivier Veran, are also being investigated.
Buzyn has quit politics and in January joined the cabinet of the World Health Organization’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who has also been under fire for his response to the pandemic.