France Telecom-Orange CEO Richard faces formal investigation, fraud charge

The CEO of France Telecom-Orange, Stephane Richard, has been placed under formal investigation by a judge for his role in what's been dubbed as the "Tapie Affair" when he served as the chief of staff for former finance minister Christine Lagarde.

Stephane Richard, France Telecom Orange

Richard, at the 2011 G8 summit. (Image source: Wikipedia.fr)

The preliminary charge, according to reports in The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times, is "organized fraud."

Richard was arrested on Monday and questioned about his involvement in granting arbitration to financier Bernard Tapie during a legal dispute with Paris bank Credit Lyonnais over their sale of athletic wear company Adidas in 1993.

The executive faced three days of questioning by the investigating judge, which resulted in Richard spending a night in a local hospital, citing fatigue and an existing heart condition.

Richard's attorney Jean-Etienne Giamarchi, said on Wednesday that the charges "have no serious legal basis," adding that they are "grotesque and defamatory."

France's finance minister Pierre Moscovici said that France Telecom-Orange's board of directors should meet "as soon as possible" to discuss what effect the investigation could have on Richard's role at the company. The government owns a 27 percent stake in the company.

Jean-Bernard Orsoni, a spokesman for France Telecom-Orange, said that the investigation would not interfere with Richard's duties and he would be "back at his desk" today.

If Richard's attorney can't get the formal investigation overturned, there are number of possible outcomes: formal charges could be filed and a trial could take place, or investigators could choose to end the inquiry.

For more:
- Financial Times has this article (sub req.)
- Wall Street Journal has this article (sub req.)

Related articles:
France Telecom-Orange CEO Richard arrested in 'Tapie Affair' investigation
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France Telecom, SFR to deploy FTTH in Paris suburbs

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