Ministers To Be Tried In Blood Scandal

The investigative commission of a special court ruled Friday that former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius and two former ministers be tried for allowing AIDS-tainted blood to be used in transfusions that contaminated some 1,300 people, mainly hemophiliacs.

The three-judge commission of the Court of Justice of the Republic, rarely called upon to act, said the former officials must be judged for involuntary homicide and involuntarily compromising the well being of others.

While some 500 deaths are linked to the contaminated blood, the ministers could be held accountable for only seven; the others proscribed with the passage of time.

There was no immediate comment on the ruling from Fabius or former Social Affairs Minister Georgina Dufoix and former Health Minister Edmond Herve. All three served in the Socialist government from 1984-86, and all have been under investigation since 1994 for complicity in poisoning.

Fabius and his former colleagues all claim they never knowingly approved the use of contaminated blood.

The commission, in deciding the three should be judged, did not heed the request last month by Prosecutor Jean-Francois Burgelin who asked the case be dropped. The prosecutor based his demand on the poisoning charge.

The lesser charges brought Friday carry a maximum of five years in prison and a total of 800,000 francs ($133.300) in fines.

The head of the Association for the Transfused of France said he felt relief at the decision, despite the lesser charges against the officials.

"Now we can publicly show the faults that were committed and that ended in this unprecedented health drama," said Edmond-Luc Henry on a French television interview.

The Court of Justice of the Republic, made up of a dozen lawmakers and three judges, acts only in cases involving potential crimes committed by government officials while in office.

Regular courts have already convicted four former health officials, including the doctor who headed the National Center for Blood Transfusion in 1985.

The tainted-blood scandal broke in 1992 with proof that blood tainted with the HIV virus had knowingly been used in transfusions in 1984-85.

Convictions and ongoing legal action are based on evidence revealing the failure at the time to import more expensive heat-treated blood products or use an American AIDS detecting test while a French one was being perfected by the Pastuer Institute.

Written by Nicolas Marmie