PARIS (AFP) – Paris police announced on Saturday (April 10) that they had fined more than 100 diners in an underground restaurant flouting coronavirus restrictions and arrested its organizer, after a week of allegations that ministers attended similar events breaking the rules.
Police officers were “called in for a complaint of excessive noise in a restaurant” Friday evening and “put an end to a gathering of more than 110 people,” police in the French capital posted on Twitter.
“Guests fined for non-compliance with applicable health measures. The organizer and manager arrested,” they added.
The prosecutor’s office said the two men were released on Saturday as the investigation continued.
In a second incident in Saint-Ouen, on the outskirts of Paris, police fined 62 people on Friday at lunchtime, news channel BFMTV reported.
Police tweeted that they also arrested the manager of this restaurant.
Underground restaurants offering the rich a pre-coronavirus dining experience have been making headlines in France throughout this week.
Private television station M6 last week aired a story based on footage recorded with a hidden camera allegedly from an underground restaurant in an upscale district of Paris where neither staff nor diners wore masks.
Participants were able to taste caviar and champagne during the event at a price of 220 euros (S $ 351) per person.
All restaurants and cafes have been closed in France for eating there in the past five months. The country started a new limited national lockdown this week to deal with the surge in Covid-19 infections.
One of the organizers of the dinner broadcast by M6, the businessman and collector Pierre-Jean Chalencon, was briefly arrested Friday by the police alongside the chef Christophe Leroy.
Chalencon had claimed to have organized several dinners in his luxurious room at the Palais Vivienne, in central Paris, in the presence of ministers.
“At this stage of the investigation, there is no evidence that any member of the government attended the dinners under investigation,” prosecutors said after questioning him.
Former Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux told AFP he attended a “professional lunch” with a journalist at the end of last month, hosted by Leroy.
But he said he was told it was completely legal as it was in a private, isolated apartment rather than a restaurant.
“There were less than six of us, no rules were broken,” said Hortefeux, adding that “it was very worrying” to be linked to the illegal dinners for which Leroy is facing legal questions.