France’s former health minister Agnès Buzyn has been charged over her handling of the Covid-19 pandemic after investigators at a special court in Paris concluded there were grounds to prosecute her.
Buzyn has been charged with “endangering the lives of others”, according to the prosecutor in a special court that deals with ministerial accountability. A second possible offence of “failure to stop a disaster” was not brought.
The former doctor, who will be able to appeal against the charge, attended a hearing at the court on Friday, saying she welcomed “an excellent opportunity for me to explain myself and to establish the truth”.
She said she would not “let the action of the government be discredited, or my action as a minister, when we did so much to prepare our country for a global health crisis that is still ongoing”.
The charges are a blow for the president, Emmanuel Macron, whose handling of the health crisis will face scrutiny during election campaigning next year, but the court is also likely to face allegations of judicial overreach.
Buzyn, who resigned from her post in February last year, weeks after the first Covid cases were confirmed in France, has faced criticism and ridicule over her initial statements about the pandemic.
She said in January 2020 that there was “practically no risk” of importing Covid-19 from the Chinese city at the origin of the outbreak, Wuhan, and then said the “risk of a spread of the coronavirus among the population is very small”.
A month later, as she left the ministry to launch a failed bid to become Paris mayor, she claimed that “the tsunami has yet to come”, in an apparent contradiction of her earlier statements.
Buzyn, a cancer and transplant specialist, later told a parliamentary investigation that she had alerted the president and the then prime minister, Edouard Philippe, to the potential “dangers” of Covid-19 as early as January.
The special court, called the court of justice of the republic, was created in 1993 to prosecute ministers as a way of improving accountability due to perceptions that cabinet members were able to escape legal censure for their actions in office.
Some critics accuse it of being too slow and lenient, while defenders of Buzyn see the investigation as unfair and likely to deter others from entering politics.
Philippe and the current health minister, Olivier Veran, are also being investigated.
Buzyn has quit politics and in January joined the cabinet of the World Health Organization’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who has also been under fire for his response to the pandemic.