PARIS, April 9 (UPI) -- A Paris judge has opened an inquiry into allegations a French company exported suspect blood to developing countries long after it was deemed dangerous, opening a new to France's long-running scandal involving HIV-tainted blood.
The investigation was opened following charges filed in November, by a Tunisian couple whose son died 14 years ago, in the Mediterranean Tunisian city of Sousse. The death of 19-year-old Abdelkader Fradi was officially listed as due to a "cerebral hemorrhage." But the young hemophiliac had in fact contracted the AIDS virus, a taboo subject in Tunisia, his parents say.
According to French news reports, the Sousse hospital that cared for him used unheated blood products up to 1986, and possibly 1987, coming from the French firm Merieux.
"The parents want to know whether the blood contamination of their child was due to a non-preventable accident or to bad administration of the blood products," Francois Honnorat, the Paris-based lawyer for the Fradis, told United Press International Wednesday.
Honnorat said they first want to find out what happened before deciding whether to seek reparations.
The inquiry marks the first foray into whether a major French blood scandal may have caused illness and death overseas. More than 4,000 people were infected with the AIDS virus in France more than a decade ago, before tainted blood products were withdrawn. The scandal implicated major French politicians, leading doctors and Health Ministry officials.
In 1999, a special court acquitted former French Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, and the country's former social affairs minister. A former health minister, Edmond Herve, was convicted but not sentenced. In July, a French appeals court dismissed another trial implicating 30 people, sparking outrage.
Honnorat said many others in Tunisia and other developing countries may have been infected by the export of tainted blood products.
So far, however, no charges have been leveled for lack of sufficient evident, he said -- partly due to lack of transparency by health administrators in many poorer nations.
"We know very well Merieux marketed products that were not tested and not heated in a number of countries -- they recognized it in fact," the French lawyer said. "The problem is the receivers never had sufficient proof to identify the products."
Difficulty gathering sufficient evidence also explained why the Fradi couple took so long to register their complaints in the Paris court, Honnorat added.
Merieux now goes by the name of Adventis-Pasteur. Contacted Wednesday at their headquarters in Lyon, France, company spokesmen did not immediately comment on the latest allegations.