France’s former health minister is being formally investigated over the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Prosecutors looking into government failings are investigating Agnès Buzyn for “endangering the lives of others”.
Ms Buzyn left the post in February 2020 to run for Paris mayor, saying Covid was low risk. But she later spoke of knowing a “tsunami” was approaching.
It is one of the world’s first cases of a minister facing legal accountability for their pandemic response.
A special court set up in France in 1993 to investigate government ministers accused of misconduct will decide whether to prosecute her.
The wording of one of the charges being investigated is “failing to fight a disaster”, according to Le Monde newspaper.
At a court hearing on Friday, the 58-year-old said she welcomed the chance to explain herself and “to establish the truth”, AFP news agency reported.
She added that she would not let the government’s actions or her own be discredited “when we did so much to prepare our country for a global health crisis”.
Ms Buzyn took up the role as France’s health minister in May 2017 and resigned just a few weeks after the first Covid-19 cases were confirmed in France.
She lost the Paris mayoral election to Anne Hidalgo last year. The former doctor then joined the cabinet of World Health Organization (WHO) head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in January 2021.
Le Monde said Ms Buzyn had spoken before leaving her post of “very low risks” of a major Covid outbreak. But in June 2020, she told the paper: “When I left the ministry, I cried because I knew a tsunami wave was approaching.”
The announcement comes as part of a wider investigation into the government’s pandemic response – including its preparedness, policy changes, and its reception of scientific research into the virus.
France’s current health minister Olivier Véran reportedly could also be summoned before the same judges in the coming weeks.
The Court of Justice of the Republic is a controversial institution, which gives the judges and parliamentarians who sit on it the right to investigate, try and convict ministers for crimes arising from their government work.
For several months it’s had a file open on alleged oversights and failings committed by the Macron government, especially in the early stages of the epidemic.
The court is looking into accusations of negligence in the provision of protective clothing to health staff, and confusion in the issuing of advice over masks.
But there are many in French political circles – including the opposition – who find the court’s action to be troubling. An over-assertive judicial branch, they fear, is in danger of paralysing the executive – and deterring ministers, fearful of prosecution, from anything but the most cautious response to crises that occur.
On Friday, France reported 9,966 more infections over the past 24 hours, compared with 13,466 the previous Friday.
In total the country has reported some 6.7 million cases and more than 113,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data.