A journalist’s investigation has exposed illegal social dinners that are making a mockery of the strict coronavirus measures in France. An insult to all Covid victims, health workers and the restaurant and foodservice industry.

First published in April 2021.

A recent investigation by French TV M6 has uncovered that clandestine social dinners are currently taking place in France despite the very strict measures put in place to tackle coronavirus by the French Government since March 2020.

While the closure of restaurants, bars, culture and sports venues was enacted several months ago to curb the coronavirus pandemic, illegal dinners – where people are charged between 160 euros and 490 euros per person (£135-£415) for caviar and champagne – are organised by a top chef and a famous French art collector, at an address located in an upper-class area of Paris known only to a privileged wealthy few who do not hesitate to spend hundreds of euros to defy the law.

Menu charged 490 euros. | M6
A bottle of champagne, appetisers, goose foie gras, truffles, brioche, Mediterranean lobster with ginger sauce.

The journalists’ hidden camera revealed that, at that price, a top-of-the-range service is obviously offered. Also obvious for this type of illegal dinners attended by privileged wealthy libertarians, neither staff nor customers wear masks in the ‘restaurant’. A member of staff can even be heard telling the undercover reporters: “People who come here take their masks away. Once you walk through the door, Covid is gone. We want people to feel comfortable. It is a private club. We want people to feel at ease.”

About forty guests could be seen wandering around, wearing no masks, even kissing each other.

Clandestine social dinner investigation. | M6

The journalists later contacted the organiser of the clandestine dinner featured in their news report. The art collector defended himself and said: I had dinner in two or three restaurants this week, which are supposedly illegal restaurants, with a certain number of ministers attending. All this makes me gently laugh. We are still in a democracy. We do what we want. Come on, they’ve been pissing us off for 15 months now. It’s been 15 months that we can’t do anything... I do what I want. I’m in France. I’m still a normal citizen. What is this madness? They are sick these people!” (Editor’s note: the art collector meant the government here.)

Although his voice was doctored, it didn’t take long for people to recognise the voice of famous art collector Pierre-Jean Chalençon, who used to appear in a TV programme in which antiques are appraised then purchased by traders and collectors (the French version of Antiques Roadshow) until he got the sack after attending and appearing on photographs at the birthday of former far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen. They also recognised the Parisian building where the dinner was taking place as the Palais Vivienne, a luxurious mansion owned by Chalençon – an absolute fanatic of Napoleon Bonaparte.

At first, the art collector denied being the organiser of the illegal dinner filmed by M6. Responding to a tweet from someone calling the dinner shameful if it happens to be true, he wrote: “Totally false and slanderous... !!!!!”

Contacted by CheckNews, the fact-checking service of French daily newspaper Liberation, the chef who is alleged to have prepared the meal for the illegal event, Christophe Leroy denies having a restaurant. “I’ve got no restaurant,” he told them. After asking him questions about photographs published on social media, he stopped the conversation.

The problem is that Christophe Leroy had indeed previously openly advertised the dinner that features in the footage on Instagram, mentioning even the address and featuring a picture of Pierre-Jean Chalençon at the Palais Vivienne!

You won’t be too surprised to learn that the post has since disappeared from the chef’s account.

On Instagram, Chef Christophe Leroy openly announced the dinner for 1 April, at... the Palais Vivienne, and featuring... Pierre-Jean Chalençon! (post deleted since) | Instagram

Other ‘hints’ that the two men were involved in the filmed event – but also in past and future events – could easily be found on the website of Christophe Leroy.

Because, nope, this was not the first of such illegal events they organised.

For example, the Palais Vivienne also hosted an event for the Go East Business Club (a private club that describes itself as bringing together Members and their friends, selected for their personal qualities, their professional functions and their human capacities, in order to promote the ties of culture and business between France, the countries of the East and Eurasia) on 10 March 2021. Again nobody was wearing a mask in the room and there was no social distancing either.

Announcing the illegal event. | Leroy's Club

Because the art collector, in his answer to the M6 journalists, claimed that French government ministers were attending clandestine dinners too, a formal police investigation has now been initiated at the request of the French Minister of Interior, Gérald Darmanin.

“Following the M6 report, I asked the Prefect of Police to check the accuracy of the facts reported and, if they are verified, to prosecute the organisers and participants of these clandestine dinners,” Mr Darmanin tweeted on Sunday.

If ministers do attend illegal events, people have the right to know it, and the culprits must resign and be prosecuted.

What happens next is interesting.

Probably afraid that the police investigation could get him into big trouble, the lawyer of Pierre-Jean Chalençon, told the AFP on Sunday evening that his client had actually only been “joking” when he told M6 journalists that government ministers were attending illegal dinners.

“Pierre-Jean Chalençon, a great collector of objects related to Napoleon, has always enjoyed humour. Thus, when he explains that he dines with ministers in clandestine restaurants, he brilliantly sustains the sense of the absurd.”

By making this statement, however, his lawyer confirmed that the art collector was indeed the organiser of the illegal event filmed by the reporters.

Ultimately, those wealthy and privileged libertarians who organise illegal social dinners, and who think of themselves as rebels against the law or against the government, are making a mockery of the coronavirus measures that must apply to everyone.

Because there is a third wave of Covid-19 infections hitting France right now, and because the pandemic is still far from over, they should know better. Where is their empathy?

By their actions, they are insulting all the Covid victims and their families, the health workers who have not stopped working hard to save lives since March 2020, and the people working in the restaurant and foodservice industry who have suffered huge losses in their businesses because of the restrictions but who have done everything to respect the law in the interest of everyone.

How many more illegal events (whether clandestine restaurants, rave parties, private social gatherings, etc.) exist out there? In France, in the UK, in Europe, in the US?

They, who organise clandestine events to flout the Covid restrictions – whoever they are, are not rebels. They do not care about democracy. They do not care for anything but themselves. They only want to enjoy their private little moment that will maybe last a few minutes, maybe a few hours, without thinking about the consequences. What they actually do is helping the virus. They are in team Covid.  

Going Further:

J.N. PAQUET, Author & Journalist, Editor of PMP Magazine.


[This piece was first published in PMP Magazine on 5 April 2021. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]

(Cover: Screenshot from the hidden camera, M6. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)

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