Misappropriation of 15 million euros at FN Herstal: three directors invited to resign

Following the embezzlement of 15 million euros by an employee of the FN, the chairman of the board, the former CEO and the chairman of the audit committee are invited to resign. Laurent Levaux (audit committee) already answers that he will not resign.

Journalist in the Economy department

Reading time: 3 mins

Lhe case caused a stir, an employee of the FN Herstal purchasing department managed to embezzle nearly 15 million euros during the fifteen years he spent with the Liège arms manufacturer. The system put in place apparently consisted of using false invoices for supplies that were never delivered. Complicities with certain suppliers seem logical. The indelicate employee was dismissed at the end of January for serious misconduct but it seems that he took refuge in Congo, protected by his dual Belgian-Congolese nationality.

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Fifteen million, the offense is not small in a company whose financial health is not radiant and, parallel to the legal action in progress, one therefore seeks operational responsibilities. Thus, the Walloon Region, 100% shareholder of the arms factory through its economic tool Wallonie Entreprendre (WE-merger of Sogepa, Sowalfin and SRIW) has just encouraged some of its administrators to leave voluntarily board of directors. They are the chairman of the CA Jean-Sébastien Belle, the former CEO of the FN Philippe Claessens and Laurent Levaux, chairman of the audit committee.

WE’s board of directors met for a long time and decided to “invite” the three managers to resign voluntarily. By diplomatically specifying that this invitation does not take the place of recognition of a fault but because their situation has become problematic in the functions they occupy today. Argument certainly intended for the attention of the chairman (labeled PS) and the chairman of the audit committee (labeled MR). For the former CEO who has become a director, it is clear that managerial responsibility seems more obvious. In case of refusal of voluntary resignation, a more directive version could be taken.

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Laurent Levaux reacted to this “invitation to resign”: “There is no question for me of resigning. It would be a pure scandal and it would damage my reputation and that of my company. I agreed to take the presidency of the Audit Committee of the Herstal Group from April 2017, at the request of the shareholder. I had set as conditions – and obtained – in particular the carrying out of an audit of the audit committee by BDO, the change of company auditors and finally the recruitment of an internal auditor. The rhythm, frequency and decisions of the Audit Committee were, in 2017 and 2018, 3 times higher than the year preceding my appointment. The acts of misappropriation that have been brought to light within the Group are serious and I condemn them in the strongest terms. Anyone with experience on Boards of Directors knows that this type of dysfunction, at a basic level in the hierarchy, is strictly the managerial responsibility of the leaders of the time. I have created and developed companies for more than 20 years on an international scale, my skills, my investment and – above all – my integrity have never been questioned and there is no question, today, of give way to those who just want to “roll heads”.

As a reminder, it is a new system of “reconciliation” of expenses (correspondence between purchase orders and final invoices) which has made it possible to unmask misappropriations in the cash flow of FN Herstal and a longer-term analysis which made it possible to grasp its magnitude.

The Walloon Region and Wallonie Entreprendre should become civil parties in the case.

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