French investigate kickbacks from fish vendor to 30 chefs


PARIS -- An investigating magistrate has confirmed reports that he had 30 Paris chefs under scrutiny for possibly taking kickbacks from a wholesale fish dealer.

Among those being investigated are Manuel Martinez, the chef at La Tour d'Argent, which is more famous for pressed duck than fish dishes, and Christian Constant, of Les Ambassadeurs in the Hotel de Crillon. La Tour d'Argent has three stars, the highest rating, in the Michelin guide, and Les Ambassadeurs has two.

The main focus of the magistrate, Eric Halphen, is a wholesale company called Scotfish. Its chairman, Patrick Perrin, is suspected of making monthly payments of $30 to $600 to restaurant chefs who ordered his fish, said his lawyer, Guy Nicolas.

Mr. Nicolas said police had found envelopes stuffed with cash at the company's premises at the Rungis wholesale food markets south of Paris in November after getting a tip from a cashier who had lost her job.

"It's an old tradition, a tip or a commission," Mr. Nicolas said. "That's how chefs were paid in the Middle Ages."

The Hotel de Crillon made no comment, but the manager of La Tour d'Argent, Pierre Leconte, said that where price, quality, and billing procedures were concerned, there was nothing fishy about Scotfish.

A spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry said that it had allowed its head chef to take early retirement after he was informed that he was under investigation.

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