Tuesday, March 9, 1999 Published at 11:03 GMT
Blood scandal ministers walk free
Cleared: Georgina Dufoix and former boss Laurent Fabius
Former French Premier Laurent Fabius and one of his ex-ministers have been acquitted of manslaughter in France's tainted blood scandal.
The court did not hand down a punishment to Mr Herve. Judge Christian Le Gunehec said that due to the length of the scandal, the former health minister had not benefited from the "presumption of innocence to which he is entitled".
Mr Herve condemned the court's decision and said that he had only done his duty as a minister.
His superior at the time, former Social Affairs Minister Georgina Dufoix, was acquitted alongside Mr Fabius on charges relating to the deaths from Aids of five people, and the contamination of two others during a key period in 1985.
Mr Herve was convicted in connection with two of the seven cases.
The verdict followed 10 days of debate before the specially convened Court of Justice of the Republic - comprising a mixed panel of magistrates and 12 members of parliament.
In France's biggest public health scandal, about 4,000 people, many of them haemophiliacs, were given blood infected with the virus.
Many of those contaminated have since died. In most cases they received transfusions before the link between HIV, Aids and blood was fully understood.
All three politicians were alleged to have delayed the introduction of a US blood-screening test in France until a rival French product was ready to go on the market.
The former health minister was also charged with failing to implement a directive advising against accepting blood from high-risk donors, notably homosexuals, drug addicts and prisoners.
During the hearings, Mr Fabius argued that any mistakes were made by his administration.
As prime minister he could not have had the expertise to decide on such a complicated issue as how to combat the still new disease of Aids.
Victims and their families were outraged at the ruling after waiting years for the ministers they saw as responsible to be brought to justice.
"Why don't you go ahead and give them the Legion of Honour while you're at it?" demanded Patrice Gaudin. His two sons had died after being contaminated with Aids-tainted blood.
The Association Francaise des Transfuses (AFT) denounced the "two-speed justice which makes some politicians untouchable".
It said that a forthcoming trial of the ministers' advisers would reveal "everything about the ministers that the Court of Justice tried to hide from the French people".
Our Paris Correspondent, Hugh Schofield, says that the decision not to punish Mr Herve will only increase the anger of the blood victims' families, who felt that the Court of Justice - specially set up so that ministers could be tried by an assembly of their peers - would end up protecting them.