February 7, 1999
PARIS (CNN) -- Three former French cabinet members go on trial this week on charges that they knowingly distributed blood products tainted with the virus that causes AIDS.
Former Premier Laurent Fabius, former Social Affairs Minister Georgina Dufoix and former Health Minister Edmond Herve have been accused of manslaughter for their part in the management of France's blood banking system in the 1980s.
Despite mounting evidence that AIDS was transmitted via blood transfusions infected with human immunodeficiency virus, and the availability of a U.S.-made screening test for HIV, officials delayed screening for several months until a French-made test became available.
French officials also distributed stocks of blood products to hemophiliacs despite information that the stocks were probably contaminated with HIV, and after a new generation of heat-treated products came on the market that eliminated the risk of HIV transmissions.
Some 1,200 French hemophiliacs were infected with HIV in the 1980s.
Three health officials were found guilty in 1992 on fraud and negligence charges in the case. A fourth defendant at that time was acquitted.
Court's first case
Fabius, Dufoix and Herve will appear before the Court of Justice of the Republic, created in 1993 to judge government ministers accused of wrongdoing while discharging their duties. It is the court's first case.
The three ministers, all Socialists, will face a panel of 15 judges -- three professional magistrates and a dozen members of parliament. A simple majority is necessary for a finding of guilt, and the ruling cannot be appealed.
Christian Le Gunehec, former president of the French Supreme Court's criminal chamber, will preside.
The trial begins Tuesday and is expected to last three to four weeks.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Former French ministers go on trial in AIDS blood scandal
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