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Orange CEO cleared of fraud

stephane richard orange

The interminable Tapie saga, which threatened to topple Orange CEO Stéphane Richard, has finally concluded with everyone acquitted of wrongdoing.

Richard (pictured) was accused of complicity in a fraud that involved the French state handing over €404 million to French businessman Bernard Tapie back in 2008. At that time Richard was Chief of Staff for Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, who was eventually found guilty of negligence in creating the circumstances for the payout and then not challenging it.

Part of Lagarde’s defence when she was put on trial back in 2016 was that she didn’t really know what she was doing because Richard didn’t furnish her with sufficient information. This led to the current trial, which investigated the role Richard and a few others played in the whole affair.

The reason for the payout was a claim from Tapie that he got ripped off when he sold his stake sportsware company Adidas to Credit Lyonnais, which is partly state-owned, in order to avoid a conflict of interest when he became a government minister back in 1992. The bank subsequently sold on the stake at a profit, leading Tapie to allege that it had deliberately undervalued it previously.

Tapie sued Credit Lyonnais and eventually Lagarde pushed the case to a closed arbitration panel which made the €404 million award. Not only was the matter deemed to be badly handled by Lagarde and her team, but the award was eventually reversed amid suspicions of fraud. This case seems to reverse that decision once more, so it looks like Tapie will get to keep the cash after all.

This is obviously good news for Orange, which had no involvement in any of it but has had Richard at the helm for eight years, during which he seems to have done a decent job. The whole thing still stinks of an establishment stitch-up, however, with French taxpayers handing over an enormous amount of cash to a rich former politician to compensate him for a botched business deal.  Richard will obviously be relieved too, but s Lagarde’s recent appointment to head the ECB indicates, he may have escaped any negative consequences even if he had been found guilty.

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