After his conviction, the fate of France Telecoms’ CEO hangs in the balance.
The board of directors of French telecoms firm Orange will meet on Wednesday to debate the fate of its CEO Stephane Richard, who was sentenced to a one-year suspended sentence for his role in a fraud-tainted state payoff to entrepreneur Bernard Tapie.
Richard, 60, is one of numerous former and current top officials embroiled in a decade-old scandal involving a gigantic 404-million-euro ($453-million) payment made to Tapie while Richard was working in the French finance ministry in 2008.
The size of the damages Tapie received in a dispute over the state’s sale of his stock in Adidas sent shockwaves through France, raising suspicions that the arbitration panel chosen by then-finance minister Christine Lagarde to settle the case was skewed in Tapie’s favor.
In 2019, a Paris criminal court acquitted Tapie, who died last month, as well as Richard and three others, of any wrongdoing.
The arbitration award, which was nullified in 2015, was found to be “fraudulent” by the appellate court on Wednesday. Richard, who was Lagarde’s chief of staff, was convicted of involvement in misusing public funds for recommending that the dispute with Tapie be settled out of court.
“I committed major offenses in putting Bernard Tapie’s interests above those of the state or the public money he was tasked with defending,” the presiding judge added.
She accused him of financially punishing the state and pushing it into “disrepute.”
Richard stated that he will challenge the decision, which included a fine of 50,000 euros ($56,000).
In a statement to AFP, he stated, “The claims of collaboration in the misappropriation of public funds are without merit and are not based on any evidence.”
He went on to say, “I’m putting my mandate (as CEO) in the hands of Orange’s board of directors.”
His term is set to conclude in the middle of 2022.
Orange’s board of directors will meet to “draw implications” from the court verdict, according to the economy ministry. Orange is owned by the French government, which owns 23% of the company.
Tapie, a tycoon, entertainer, and former minister who rose from low origins to become a household name, died last month after a battle with stomach cancer.
He was the longtime chair of the Olympique de Marseille football club, and a great sports aficionado.
When he sold his part in Adidas in 1993 to state-run French bank Credit Lyonnais, which was discovered to have undervalued the sportswear company, the arbitration panel determined that he had been the victim of fraud.
Lagarde was chastised for her decision. The Washington Newsday Brief News is a daily newspaper published in Washington, D.C.