France briefly detains chef, businessman in secret dinners scandal

·2-min read
The luxury Palais Vivienne owned by French collector Pierre-Jean Chalencon was allegedly used for a clandestine dinner

French police on Friday detained for questioning leading chef Christophe Leroy and flamboyant businessman Pierre-Jean Chalencon after accusations they organised clandestine restaurant dinners for top figures in defiance of Covid-19 restrictions, prosecutors said.

The two men, along with Leroy's spouse, were interrogated for several hours by investigators before being released.

"At this stage of the investigation, there is no evidence that indicates any members of the government took part in the dinners being investigated," prosecutors said.

The M6 private television channel last week broadcast a reportage based on footage recorded with a hidden camera purportedly from a clandestine restaurant in a high-end area of Paris where neither the staff nor the diners were wearing masks.

Participants were shown enjoying caviar and champagne at the even costing 220 euros(260 dollars) per person.

All restaurants and cafes have been closed in France for eating in for the last five months. The country this week began a new limited nationwide lockdown to deal with surging Covid-19 infections.

The hashtag #OnVeutLesNoms (We Want the Names) went viral on Twitter, as speculation swirled over who may have attended such dinners.

Chalencon, who owns the luxury Palais Vivienne venue in the centre of Paris that was allegedly used for such an event, had told the channel that several such dinners had taken place and even ministers had attended.

The long-haired businessman, a prominent collector of memorabilia, later backtracked from this remark and the government has vehemently denied that any ministers have been involved.

Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said Sunday that a criminal probe had been opened into putting the lives of others at risk.

Police on Thursday searched the premises of the Palais Vivienne and a similar search had been carried on Wednesday at the home of Christophe Leroy.

Leroy's lawyer Thierry Fradet said his client had submitted documents that showed that any dinners he had organised were in private homes -- in line with the current rules -- and not secret restaurants.

tll-edy-sjw/jz/har