An undercover report showing members of the Paris elite enjoying secret dinner parties in luxury restaurants and flouting Covid-19 restrictions has sparked fury in France, and prompted the city’s prosecutor to launch an investigation.
The probe comes after a TV report by channel M6 that aired Friday, showing hidden camera footage of two upmarket restaurants filled with mask-free guests.
In the video, an undercover journalist enters a private dining club with closed shutters and is greeted by a waiter wearing white gloves. She is asked on whose behalf she has been invited and is told: “Once you’re through the door, there’s no more Covid.”
The maitre d’ is heard explaining that the menu starts at 160 euros ($190) per person. For 490 euros ($580) diners can sip champagne while feasting on foie gras with truffle and langoustine in a ginger sauce.
“We are looking into possible charges of endangerment and undeclared labor,” a spokesman for the Paris prosecutor told CNN Monday. “We will verify whether the gatherings were organized in violation of sanitary rules and determine who were the potential organizers and participants.”
Restaurants in France have been closed since late last year, as the country battles a third wave of coronavirus infections. A further “limited lockdown” took effect last week, as President Emmanuel Macron warned that the country risks “losing control” over the pandemic.
The video goes on to show another dinner party being held in lavish surroundings with large tapestries and gilded paintings. The guests are seen giving each other “la bise,” kissing each other cheek to cheek.
The organizer appears to claim: “This week I dined at two or three restaurants, so-called clandestine restaurants, with a certain number of ministers.”
Due to its recognizable decor, the restaurant was later identified as Palais Vivienne owned by Pierre-Jean Chalençon.
Chalençon’s lawyer released a statement Sunday acknowledging the distorted voice on the video belonged to his client but that he was joking when he said government ministers had attended dinners.
The scandal has drawn the ire of many online, with the hashtag #OnVeutLesNoms (We Want The Names) trending on Twitter on Monday.
Government spokesman Gabriel Attal told LCI news channel Sunday that authorities have been investigating reports of illegal parties for months and that 200 suspects have been identified so far. “They will face a heavy punishment,” Attal added.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that restaurants have been closed in France since last month. They've been closed since last year. This has been corrected.