French authorities investigate whether ministers dined at secret luxury restaurants, violating restrictions
But some have flouted the rules. Authorities opened the inquiry following an undercover report aired by the M6 channel Friday that included footage of an unidentified man at a speakeasy-like restaurant bragging about his recent dinners “with a certain number of ministers.”
“We are still in a democracy,” the man said in the report. “We do what we want.”
The M6 report drew widespread public anger over the weekend, with social media users sharing the hashtag #OnVeutLesNoms — “we want the names” — and calling for the identities of politicians who had been dining at the restaurant. A number of tweets included references to the guillotine and the French Revolution.
French media later identified the unnamed man as Pierre-Jean Chalençon, the owner of the Palais Vivienne venue in central Paris. Chalençon retracted his comments and said he was simply joking, according to Radio France Internationale.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has asked police to look into the claims and prosecute the organizers, while government spokesman Gabriel Attal said in a television interview on Sunday that authorities had been investigating clandestine parties for months and had already identified 200 suspects.
The Paris prosecutor’s office opened an investigation into the allegations on Sunday, stating that those responsible for the illicit restaurants could face possible charges of endangerment and undeclared labor.
In the M6 report, journalists secretly filmed as they entered a venue in an upscale Parisian neighborhood. Wait staff showed them an menu including champagne and caviar — with meals up to 490 euros per person, around $577 — and warned them that they were not allowed to wear face masks inside.
“People who come here take off the mask,” one man said. “Once you walk through the door, there is no more covid-19.”
There are more than 40,000 restaurants in Paris alone, and those who work in the food industry have complained that the shutdowns have decimated their revenue.
Many responded angrily when the government announced last November that restaurants would remain closed over the holiday season, even as some nonessential shops reopened. Facebook groups calling on restaurants to open illegally have found the backing of tens of thousands of supporters.
In January, Paris police said they discovered 24 restaurants operating in defiance of the pandemic rules over a two-day period. In one restaurant, 10 local magistrates were fined by police officers after they were caught eating food on the terrace.
“We must have lunch,” the magistrates reportedly told the police officers, according to Le Parisian.
France has recorded a total of 4.8 million coronavirus cases and more than 96,000 deaths. The country entered a partial national lockdown last week after a surge in new cases that were attributed to the rise of a coronavirus variant first identified in Britain.
In his announcement of the new measures, French President Emmanuel Macron emphasized a need for solidarity. “We will all get there together,” he said.