Shares in the French restaurant chain Buffalo Grill fell by more than 90% yesterday [Wednesday] following news that four company executives had been arrested on suspicion of illegally serving British beef in their restaurants.

British beef was banned in the EU between 1996 and 1999 due to the threat of BSE, although France persisted with the ban until earlier this year.

The lawyer representing Buffalo Grill denied claims that the restaurant chain had illegally served British beef during the ban.

The detentions of four Buffalo Grill executives, including the firm’s chairman and chief executive, Christian Picart, were ordered by judge Marie-Odile Bertella-Geffroy. The judge has been heading a judicial inquiry into “involuntary manslaughter and damages and endangering the lives of others” after the families of three French victims of the fatal human form of BSE, variant CJD, filed a lawsuit. He had been looking into the Buffalo Grill chain after it emerged that more than one of the victims had eaten there, reported Agence-France Presse.

Shares in Buffalo Grill, which operates 260 outlets in France and other European countries, have been suspended.