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Monday, December 6, 2021

Boss of French telecoms firm Orange given suspended sentence and €50,000 fine over fraud trial

Stephane Richard’s future running French telecoms giant Orange is in doubt after he was convicted in a fraud trial that strikes at the heart of the French establishment. 

Mr Richard was fined €50,000 and handed a one-year suspended sentence after being found guilty of complicity in the misuse of public funds over a French state payout of €400m (£336m) to the late businessman Bernard Tapie. 

Judge Sophie Clément said Mr Richard had “committed grave acts by favouring the interests of Mr Tapie at the expense of those of the state”.

Mr Tapie was handed compensation and damages after accusing the state of defrauding him when he sold a stake in Adidas, the sportswear group, to a bank backed by the French government in 2008.

Christine Lagarde, the French finance minister at the time who is now president of the European Central Bank, had pushed through the settlement. 

It was later overturned after prosecutors said the process was tipped in Mr Tapie’s favour as a reward for backing Nicola Sarkozy in the 2007 presidential election. 

Mr Richard’s case relates to his time as Ms Lagarde’s chief of staff when she was finance minister. She was convicted of negligence in 2016 in relation to the scandal, but faced no fine or sentence due to her “international reputation”. 

Mr Richard, who was cleared of one count of fraud, denied any wrongdoing and branded his sentence from the Paris appeals court “profoundly unjust”. He planned to appeal against the verdict.

He said the verdict was “impossible to understand. I only executed the ministerial decision to go before arbitration, which has been totally assumed by Christine Lagarde.” 

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