Paris, Friday

A SEVEN-YEAR-OLD scandal over the distribution of Aids-contaminated

blood and plasma by a French Government-run transfusion agency reached a

climax today when a Paris court inflicted fines and minor prison

sentences on three health experts, one a professor at Cambridge


But prosecution lawyers and people with Aids were dissatisfied with

verdicts and said the fight for justice would continue.

The six-week trial in June and July of four men on the minor charge of

''fraud relating to goods'' after far more serious charges were dropped

was widely regarded in France as a sham aimed at protecting high-ranking

politicians. Judges took two-and-a-half months to reach the verdicts

announced yesterday.

Three hundred people, mainly haemophiliacs, have died of Aids and more

than 1000 have the HIV virus after receiving untreated contaminated

blood from the Government transfusion agency CNTS in 1985.

Far from satisfying public outrage, yesterday's verdicts created fresh

controversy. The victims and their lawyers demanded an Assize Court

hearing to re-examine the case and determine Government


Defence lawyers again protested that their clients had been used as

scapegoats by politicians whom they accuse of being the real guilty


One of the accused, Dr Michel Garretta, 48, former director of the

CNTS, was not even in court yesterday. He was sentenced in his absence

to four years' imprisonment -- a maximum for the charge. He was also

fined F500,000 (#62,500) and ordered to pay F9.2m (#1.1m) damages, as

was Dr Jean-Pierre Allain, 43, now Professor of Medicine at Cambridge


Dr Allain was sentenced to two years' imprisonment with a further two

years suspended. He appealed against the sentence.

Dr Allain has resigned from his clinical responsibilities at the

transfusion centre at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, the world

famous heart transplant centre, pending an independent inquiry.

In a statement, he said: ''I understand the judgment in Paris may

raise the concern of the British public about my ability out carry out

my duty as a director of the East Anglia blood transfusion centre.

''I have, therefore, decided to step down from my clinical

responsibilities until an appeal committee of impartial and qualified

professionals examines the evidence and produces an individual opinion

to guide the regional health service.

''I am absolutely confident that through this process my professional

integrity and personal honour will be fully restored,'' he added.

Cambridge University said Dr Allain would retain his post as professor

of transfusion medicine.

His head of department, Professor Robin Carrell, said he was shocked

and dismayed at the sentence and added: ''Professor Allain has been made

a scapegoat and he must not be harassed in the UK as he has been in


The court ordered an international arrest warrant to be issued against

Dr Garretta who, his lawyers said, was in Boston ''resting and avoiding

journalists''. Professor Jacques Roux, 69, was given a four-year

suspended sentence and Dr Robert Netter, 65, was acquitted.

One of the prosecution lawyers, Jacques Verges, recently tried to take

the case further by pressing charges for poisoning, which can entail

life imprisonment, against former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius and

former Health Ministers Georgina Dufoix and Edmond Herve.

The charges, however, were judged inadmissable because all three have

parliamentary immunity. A request to waive that privilege was rejected

by the National Assembly. Similar charges were retained, however,

against other people who are not politicians.

A French haemophiliacs' association first brought criminal charges

over contaminated blood in 1988 after trying in vain for years to alert

authorities to the dangers. Last year the French Government announced it

would pay compensation of between #50,000 to #200,000 to all victims of

blood transfusions contaminated with HIV before January 1, 1990. Many

people have complained that a substantial part of the sum will be paid

only if they develop Aids.

The contaminated blood affair, exploited by opposition parties and

publicised in harrowing television documentaries, has become far and

away the biggest scandal to have dogged the deeply unpopular Socialist


The four men who went trial last June were kept under the sort of

police protection normally reserved for people in cases of terrorism. Dr

Garretta's car was blown up in January, 1990.

He resigned in June last year, receiving #300,000 in benefits after

being awarded the Legion d'Honneur, France's highest honour, in 1989 at

the request of President Mitterrand.