Former French health minister Agnes Buzyn has been charged with handling the COVID-19 crisis after investigators at a special court in Paris concluded there were grounds to prosecute her.
Buzyn is accused of “endangering other people’s lives,” the Republican court prosecutor said Friday, but not for a second possible violation of “failure to stop a disaster.”
The former doctor, who can appeal against the charge, arrived at the court for a hearing and said she welcomed “an excellent opportunity for me to explain myself and establish the truth”.
The 58-year-old added that she would not ‘jeopardize the actions of the government, or my actions as a minister, if we did so much to prepare our country for a global health crisis that is still going on. ‘.
The development is one of the first cases worldwide where a leading public sector official has been held legally accountable for dealing with the healthcare crisis.
The charges are a blow to President Emmanuel Macron, whose handling of the health crisis will come under scrutiny during the election campaign next year, but the court also immediately faced the allegations of judicial handover.
Anne Genetet, a Member of Parliament for the ruling LREM party, said she was ‘shocked’ and ‘angry’ about the precedent set by the court, which has special powers to prosecute ministers.
“We should not be surprised if no one wants to enter politics or become a minister anymore,” Genetet told the LCI channel.
Former Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and the current Minister of Health, Olivier Veran, are also being investigated by magistrates in court and have searched their offices.
Buzyn, who resigned from her post in February last year, weeks after the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in France, has been criticized and ridiculed for her initial statements about the crisis.
She initially said in January 2020 that there was “virtually no risk” of importing COVID-19 from the Chinese city at the outbreak of the outbreak, Wuhan did not, and then said that the “risk of” a spread of the coronavirus among the population is very small ”.
A month later, when she left the ministry to launch a failed attempt to become mayor of Paris, she claimed that “the tsunami is not yet coming”, in an apparent contradiction to her previous statements.
The cancer and transplant specialist later told a parliamentary inquiry that she had already warned the president and then-prime minister Philippe in January about the possible ‘dangers’ of COVID-19.
It is part of a broader investigation into the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and Buzyn’s successor, Veran, is expected to be summoned by the same judges in the coming weeks.
The Republic’s Court of Justice was created in 1993 as a way to improve accountability due to the perceptions that cabinet members could escape legal disapproval for their actions in office.
Members of the public may lodge complaints with the court if they believe they are the victim of a crime committed by a member of the government.
About 14,500 complaints – from individuals, doctors, associations and even prisoners – have accumulated about the government’s handling of the pandemic, the chief prosecutor said this week.
Some critics accuse the court of being too slow and lenient, while others see the current investigation as an example that the legal system goes too far.
Jean Garrigues, a French political historian who regularly supports the government, called Buzyn’s appearance in court “a serious blow to the separation of powers”.
“It is up to voters and not judges to punish a politician for their words and deeds,” he wrote on Twitter.
The court has increasingly disputed, with former President Francois Hollande and the current Macron promising to scrap it.
Buzyn left politics and joined the cabinet of the director general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in January.