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French prosecutors dismiss close to 20,000 complaints against ministers

The Court of Justice of the Republic has closed down 19,685 legal complaints brought against the French Prime Minister, Health Minister and Education Minister over their handling of the pandemic.

French anti-vaccine lawyer, Fabrice Di Vizio, helped lodge nearly 20,000 claims against French government ministers.
French anti-vaccine lawyer, Fabrice Di Vizio, helped lodge nearly 20,000 claims against French government ministers. This legal action has been dismissed. (Photo by Philippe LOPEZ / AFP)

French prosecutors announced on Monday that 19,685 of legal complaints filed against the Prime Minister and cabinet members responsible for health and education had been dismissed. 

The man behind the complaints was a controversial anti-vaccine lawyer called Fabrice di Vizio, who sold access to a template online for those wishing to launch a legal challenge against the government. Di Vizio is best known for defending Didier Raoult, the French scientists who controversially touted hydroxychloroquine as a ‘cure’ for Covid.

Thousands of the criminal claims were more or less identical and targeted the politicians for their handling of the pandemic. 

Prime Minister Jean Castex and Health Minister Olivier Véran were accused of “failure to stop a disaster”, which is a crime punishable by two years of imprisonment and a €30,000 fine.

The Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer was accused in the claims of “extortion”, with plaintiffs arguing that he was “forcing people to get vaccinated.”

Di Vizio is currently under investigation by the Paris Bar Council for having lodged the complaints against the French government in the first place. He has stepped back from the legal profession and has said he would sell shares in his legal practice. 

The complaints had been initially been filed at the Court of Justice of the Republic, a special institution created in 1993 to prosecute ministers. 

In 2020, before Di Vizio filed his claims, it launched a wide-reaching investigation into the handling of the pandemic by the government and health authorities. Olivier Véran’s home and offices were raided by police – the same happened to the country’s Director General of Health, Jérôme Salomon. 

Former Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and former government spokesperson Sibeth Ndiaye were also thought to have been under investigation. None of these figures were eventually charged. 

But in September 2021, this court did charge the former Health Minister Agnes Buzyn with “endangering the lives of others”.

READ MORE What next after France’s former health minister charged over Covid crisis?

Buzyn had 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”. She stepped down as health minister in February 2020 in order to contest the Paris mayoral election.

Her case is ongoing.

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 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.

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POLITICS

Newly appointed French Minister faces rape allegations

The final composition of the new French government was announced on Friday. A new investigation suggests that historic rape allegations against a newly appointed minister were ignored.

Newly appointed French Minister faces rape allegations

It didn’t take long for scandal to hit the France’s new government.

An investigation by Mediapart published the day after the final list of ministerial positions was announced revealed that two women have accused one of the appointees of rape. 

READ MORE Who’s who in France’s new government?

Damien Abad, the new Solidarity Minister denies the allegations and a police investigation into one allegation was dropped in 2017. But another could be about to open. 

Who is Damien Abad? 

Damien Abad is a 42-year-old son of a miner from Nimes in southern France who became the first handicapped MP to be elected in 2012. He has arthrogryposis, a rare condition that affects the joints.

Prior to his appointment as the Minister for Solidarity, Autonomy and Disabled People, he was the leader of the France’s right-wing Republicans party in the Assemblée nationale

What are the allegations? 

Two alleged victims, who didn’t know each other, told Mediapart that Abad raped them on separate occasions in 2010 and 2011.

The first woman described meeting Abad for dinner after having met him weeks earlier at a wedding. She said she blacked out after one glass of champagne and woke up in her underwear in a hotel bed with Abad the next morning fearing she had been drugged. 

A second woman who lodged a formal charge against Abad in 2017 said that he harassed her by text message for years. She eventually agreed to meet with him one evening. After initially consenting, she told him to stop – but her plea fell on deaf ears as Abad raped her. 

What does Abad have to say? 

The new minister denies the accusations.

“It is physically impossible for me to commit the acts described,” he told Mediapart – in reference to his disability. 

He admitted to sending “sometimes intimate” messages, but said he had “obviously never drugged anyone”. 

“I was able to have adventures, I stand by my claim that they were always consensual.”

Is he under investigation? 

The second alleged victim made a formal allegation against Abad in 2017. 

A subsequent investigation was dropped later that year after a “lack of sufficient evidence was gathered”.

Mediapart report that Abad’s entourage were not questioned by police and that the MP told investigators that he had no memory of the alleged crime. 

The first alleged victim flagged the abuse to the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics – an unofficial watchdog monitoring elected bodies – earlier this month. 

The Observatory has since brought the case to the state prosecutor, but it is unclear if another investigation will be launched.  

Who knew? 

The tone deaf appointment of Gérald Darmanin as Interior Minister in 2020 was controversial because at the time he was under investigation for rape. His nomination was met with street protests in Paris and elsewhere. Feminists accused (and continue to accuse) Emmanuel Macron of not taking sexual violence seriously. 

The investigation into Darmanin’s alleged crime has since been dropped.

Some will question whether the naming of Abad shows that lessons have not been learned. 

“Once again a minister  in the government of Emmanuel Macron accused of rape,” said Caroline De Haas, the founder of the #NousToutes feminist movement. 

The Observatory sent a message warning senior party figures in the Republicans and LREM about the allegations on Monday – prior to Abad’s nomination. 

France’s new Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne denied having any knowledge of the warning. 

“I am going to be very clear on all these questions of harassment and sexual violence, there will be no impunity,” she said during a visit to Calvados. 

“If there are new elements, if the courts are summoned, we will accept the consequences.” 

READ MORE Who is Élisabeth Borne, France’s new PM?

The Observatory meanwhile claims it has been ignored. 

“Despite our alerts, Damien Abad who is accused of rape has been named in government. Thoughts and support to the victims,” it tweeted

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