France state

LVMH settles corruption complaints linked to former French spy chief

LVMH must pay 10 million euros to settle allegations that a former French intelligence chief spied for the company, including an activist making a film about his billionaire owner Bernard Arnault.

The agreement, approved Friday by a Paris judge, puts an end to several criminal investigations related to the employment in the company of Bernard Squarcini, who headed the French internal intelligence agency from 2008 to 2012.

While LVMH has not admitted to wrongdoing, the scandal is damaging the reputation of Arnault, which has made LVMH the largest luxury group in the world and now enjoys enormous influence in France.

The investigations focused on allegations that Squarcini had committed acts of corruption while working for LVMH.

According to court documents, he was hired in 2013 by the second CEO of LVMH at the time to advise on the fight against counterfeiting, the prevention of corporate espionage and hacking, as well as management and prevention. crises.

But prosecutors alleged that Squarcini had put his network of police, legal and intelligence contacts at the service of LVMH and the Arnault family in acts constituting influence peddling, invasion of privacy and other offenses. .

Squarcini would have spied in 2015 François Ruffin, then documentary filmmaker but now elected deputy, and would have infiltrated his defense group Fakir to obtain a copy of the film. Thanks boss! which details Arnault’s rise to become the richest man in France.

Separately, in 2013, Squarcini allegedly requested confidential information on a judicial investigation into the LVMH raid on luxury rival Hermès, including the name of the investigating judge and evidence held by the police.

In what has been called the handbag war, Hermès filed a complaint with financial prosecutors about the tactics LVMH used in 2010 to buy a 20 percent stake that allowed it to avoid bonds. of disclosure. LVMH then paid a fine of 8 million euros.

Squarcini and others involved are still under a separate investigation for various alleged crimes related to the period and could still face trial if charges are laid. He has disputed the allegations in the 16 criminal investigations directed against him and claims his innocence.

The settlement means LVMH will no longer be in legal jeopardy and will not be charged with crimes allegedly related to Squarcini.

Ruffin, who was in court on Friday, said the luxury group shouldn’t have gotten away so lightly. “LVMH has already bought and paid the intelligence services of our country and is now doing the same with the justice system,” he commented in an interview.

Later, before the judge, he said: “Can justice be bought so cheaply? If the state is to be paid, it should at least be a lot of money to fund our hospitals or schools. This fine represents barely 0.02% of LVMH’s annual turnover.

During the hearing, an LVMH executive admitted that “internal dysfunctions” had occurred, but argued that the group should be allowed to settle and avoid prosecution because it had cooperated with prosecutors and stepped up its efforts. compliance and legal services.

White collar criminal regulations remain new in France and have been criticized by some jurists as too transactional and ineffective. Called “judicial agreements of public interest”, they were created in 2016 as part of an anti-corruption law known as Sapin II (named after the then finance minister Michel Sapin) with the aim of resolving investigations corruption, embezzlement or money laundering by inducing companies to cooperate.

Defenders of the system argue that they help resolve complex cases more quickly and generate money for state coffers.

Important settlements to date include a € 2 billion fine for Airbus for allegations of corruption and a € 500 million fine for Google for tax evasion.