Posted on Nov 24, 2021, 10:02 AMUpdated Nov 24, 2021, 2:39 PM
Stéphane Richard left the courtroom of the Paris Court of Appeal without saying a word – visibly shaken. The court sentenced on appeal the current CEO of Orange to one year in prison suspended and 50,000 euros fine, for complicity in the misappropriation of public property, in the case of the fraudulent arbitration of 2008 which had reported 404 million euros to Bernard Tapie.
The sentence contrasts with the release pronounced at first instance in the same case two years ago. And the words of justice are severe against Stéphane Richard, at the time chief of staff to the Minister of the Economy Christine Lagarde . “He committed serious acts”, assures the Court, by privileging the interests of Bernard Tapie to the detriment of those of the State, which he was supposed to defend.
Stéphane Richard’s action was deemed “decisive” in the conduct and outcome of the arbitration process, as well as in the decision not to appeal against the arbitration award. “It is not simple negligence”, specified the Court, stressing that it had “betrayed the confidence of Christine Lagarde” and that the damage suffered by the State was “immense”, in view of the sums at stake. and the discredit cast on public action.
Dressed in dark and wearing black mask, Stéphane Richard cashed in silence for an hour reading this terrible verdict. Admittedly, it is less severe than the requisitions of the Public Prosecutor’s Office. The public prosecutor asked for 3 years in prison, one of which was firm, and a 100,000 euros fine. And, as in the first instance, the boss is released from the charge of complicity in fraud: the Court of Appeal recognized that he was not aware of the fraudulent maneuvers of the lawyer of Bernard Tapie and one of the three referees – also heavily convicted on Wednesday. But it seriously compromises the future of the boss at the head of Orange.
The current mandate of Stéphane Richard – his third – runs until May 2022. And the boss had clearly indicated his wish to remain president four more years, by separating for the first time the function of that of general manager. This candidacy is now called into question, but also its maintenance as CEO until May.
Denouncing an incomprehensible and deeply unfair decision, Stéphane Richard has already lodged an appeal in Cassation and indicated that he was handing over his mandate to the Board of Directors. It meets Tuesday afternoon to discuss it.
The State, Orange’s largest shareholder with 23% of the capital and two directorships, will have its say. In a statement to AFP, Bercy soberly indicated that the Board of Directors “will draw the consequences of this decision”.
A possible exit from the game of Stéphane Richard would reshuffle the cards of his succession. The state could favor the arrival of a president from outside, or even from abroad, to form a pair with a general manager from the ranks of Orange. Internally, there is no shortage of potential candidates – from Fabienne Dulac, current boss of Orange France to Jean-François Fallacher, at the head of the Spanish subsidiary, through Michaël Trabbia, the boss of innovation or even Ramon Fernandez, Deputy Director General in charge of Finance and Strategy.