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Conviction in Tainted Blood Trial

PARIS--The trial of three former French ministers in France's long-running HIV blood scandal came to a close today, with one conviction and two acquittals. Although former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius and former social affairs minister Georgina Dufoix were found not guilty, former secretary of state for health Edmond Hervé was convicted of involuntary homicide and other charges by the Justice Court of the Republic, a special court created to try government ministers.

The case centered on decisions made by the ministers in the early and mid-1980s, when the AIDS epidemic was first rearing up in France. Fabius, in particular, was accused of delaying a nationwide testing program with an AIDS test made by U.S.-based Abbott Laboratories while the French firm Pasteur Diagnostics readied its own version. The court rejected the accusation, finding that Fabius had actually acted to speed up the testing program. Its condemnation was saved for Hervé, who was accused of having continued to allow prisoners and other high-risk individuals to donate blood for 2 years after warnings from health officials that their blood could be contaminated with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The decision, however, is mainly symbolic: Hervé will receive no punishment.

Although the latest chapter in the saga is now over, the affair may continue for many months to come. More than 30 others are accused in the case--mostly of poisoning--including noted French cell biologist François Gros, Fabius's scientific adviser in the 1980s, and AIDS epidemiology pioneer Jean-Baptiste Brunet. The examining magistrate for these defendants, Marie-Odile Bertella-Geffroy, has completed her investigation and is expected to recommend in the next several days that at least some of these defendants stand trial as well. "This is going to go on for a long time yet," says one French biomedical researcher who asked not to be identified.