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French telecom group Orange CEO Richard's future hangs on court decision

French telecom group Orange CEO Richard's future hangs on court decision
November 24, 2021 Reuters

PARIS (Reuters) – France's Orange will hold a board meeting on governance at the country's biggest telecoms group whatever the court verdict on Wednesday in a case involving Chief Executive Stephane Richard, three sources close to the matter said.

Richard, who denies any wrongdoing, faces charges of complicity in fraud and misuse of public funds in the case, which dates back to a 400 million-euro ($449 million) state payout to the now deceased tycoon Bernard Tapie in 2008.

At the time, Richard was the chief of staff to then finance minister Christine Lagarde, who now presides over the European Central Bank (ECB). Lagarde was convicted of negligence over the affair in December, 2016.

A prosecutor told judges of the Paris appeals court in June that Richard should face three years in jail for his alleged involvement in the disputed compensation payment, on top of a 100,000-euro fine.

Any conviction could precipitate the end of his career at the state-controlled company, where he was first nominated chief executive in 2010.

The sources said Orange will hold a board meeting in the wake of the court decision.

Richard was acquitted at the end of the first trial, held in 2019 during which he attended all hearings in a case which grabbed national media attention. The Orange CEO also attended almost all his appeal hearings. There are four other defendants in the case.

The former civil servant has already told the French press that he would not seek to remain CEO at the end of his third four-year term in May 2022 but was keen to stay on as chairman.

That wish could fade in the event of a severe sentence. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire has repeatedly said the government position was that bosses of state-controlled companies should quit if convicted of a crime.