A “fraudulent” sentence, biased in favor of Bernard Tapie and “to the detriment of the State”: the Paris Court of Appeal on Wednesday sentenced four defendants, including the current Orange boss Stéphane Richard, in the case of the Crédit Lyonnais arbitration in 2008.
The exact opposite of the decision of the criminal court, which had pronounced a general acquittal in July 2019, the court ruled that the arbitration awarding 403 million euros to Bernard Tapie had been the subject of a “swindle” .
Full, the small courtroom listened in thick silence to this long-awaited decision, postponed after the death of Bernard Tapie in early October, in one of the aspects of the ancient conflict between the businessman and his historical bank.
The arbitration rendered in 2008, which aimed to settle the dispute over the resale of Adidas in the early 1990s, was immediately controversial. It has since been canceled in civil matters in 2015 and Bernard Tapie ordered to reimburse the public money collected.
But there was still a criminal debate on whether the process had been “rigged”: yes, the court of appeal ruled.
The CEO of Orange Stéphane Richard, at the time chief of staff of the Minister of the Economy Christine Lagarde, plays in this file his future at the head of the operator: he was sentenced to one year in prison. and a fine of 50,000 euros for complicity in the embezzlement of public funds.
– “Discredit” –
Mr. Richard “betrayed the confidence” of Mrs. Lagarde by “his occult actions”, declared the president of the court Sophie Clément. “The damage suffered by the State is immense because of the sums embezzled and the discredit that the behavior of the defendant threw on the public service”.
“Charges (…) without any foundation” and “based on no evidence”, denounced Stéphane Richard, 60, announcing an appeal in cassation.
Orange’s board of directors is to meet Wednesday at 6:00 p.m. to “draw the consequences” of this court decision.
For not having appealed against the arbitration award, Christine Lagarde was found guilty in 2016 of “negligence” but exempted from punishment by the Court of Justice of the Republic.
On Wednesday, the court handed down the heaviest sentences against the two men found guilty of fraud: one of the three arbitrators Pierre Estoup and the historical lawyer of Mr. Tapie, Maurice Lantourne.
The first, now 95 years old, was “committed to the cause of Bernard Tapie” and “fully mastered the arbitration by circumventing the other two arbitrators”, according to the decision: he was sentenced to three years of imprisonment and a fine of 300,000 euros.
The second “obtained the designation” of Mr. Estoup and “continued secret relations” with him during the process, according to the court.
– “Private interests” –
Me Lantourne, 65, was sentenced to three years in prison including one firm year, a fine of 300,000 euros and a five-year ban on practice – applicable immediately. He was also found guilty of complicity in the embezzlement of public funds.
For this same offense, the court finally sentenced Jean-François Rocchi, former president of an entity responsible for managing the liabilities of Crédit Lyonnais, to two years in prison and a 25,000 euros fine.
Another official, Bernard Scemama, was released.
The court did not follow the general prosecutor’s office, choosing penalties much more severe than its requisitions for MM. Estoup and Lantourne and much lighter for MM. Richard and Rocchi.
The appeal trial was interrupted in the fall of 2020 due to the deterioration in the state of health of Bernard Tapie, who was suffering from cancer, before resuming in the spring.
The criminal proceedings against the former minister, against whom a five-year suspended prison sentence had been requested, have been extinguished since his death on October 3. The court of appeal nevertheless considered that he had “committed a civil fault” by “activating his political support” and by “mandating his lawyer to put pressure on the opposing party”.
On reading these motivations, Bernard Tapie’s lawyer, who has always claimed his innocence, shook his head.
MM. Estoup and Lantourne, as well as the companies in liquidation of Bernard Tapie, were ordered to pay around 400 million to the structures managing the liabilities of Crédit Lyonnais.
MM. Richard and Rocchi were ordered to pay 40,000 euros to these same structures and the four defendants to pay 100,000 euros for moral damage to the State, as well as 600,000 euros in legal costs.