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French police search homes of senior politicians — including health minister — as part of probe into pandemic response

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French police have searched the homes of several top officials, including the country’s former prime minister and current health minister, as part of an investigation into the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The country’s health ministry confirmed the dawn searches had taken place on Thursday and included the offices of the current health minister Olivier Veran.

Meanwhile, among those whose homes were searched were Mr Veran, former prime minister Edouard Philippe, Mr Veran’s predecessor Agnes Buzyn, top health official Jerome Salomon, and Sibeth Ndiaye, a former government spokeswoman.

The searches came a day after French President Emmanuel Macron announced curfews in Paris and eight other French cities to deal with the rising toll of new infections.

Daily new infections are increasing at a record rate nationwide, putting a renewed strain on France’s hospital system. The virus has killed more than 33,000 people to date in the country, the ninth-highest tally in the world.

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Amid the crisis, Covid-19 patients, doctors, prison personnel, police officers and others in France have filed an unprecedented 90 complaints in the Court of Justice of the Republic over recent months, notably over shortages of masks and other equipment.

President Macron and his government have acknowledged mask shortages and other missteps in the virus crisis. France was also short of testing capacity and criticised for not imposing confinement measures swiftly enough.

Mr Macron himself cannot be targeted by lawsuits while in office because sitting presidents have immunity from prosecution.

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A judicial investigation was launched into the official handling of the pandemic following the complaints, altough the Court of Justice said at the time it had thrown out 44 of the 90 complaints and was still studying 37 others.

The nine it deemed worth investigating target Mr Philippe, who resigned hours before the court’s announcement, Mr Veran and Ms Buzyn, among others.

They are accused of “failing to fight a disaster”, and could face up to two years in prison and fines, if tried and convicted.

That was the only charge the court retained among multiple accusations in the 90 complaints, which included allegations of manslaughter and endangering lives.

A conviction on those charges carries the potential for heavier prison terms.

The Court of Justice of the Republic is the only French court where government ministers can be tried for their actions while in office, and was created in the wake of a major health scandal in the 1990s

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