Stéphane Richard (pictured), who has been Chairman and CEO of French operator group Orange for almost a decade, has been forced to throw in the towel by a recent court ruling.
A French appeals court partially overturned a 2019 ruling that cleared Richard of any wrongdoing in back when he was part of the French government. The matter in question concerned a payment from the French state to businessman Bernard Tapie in 2008, overseen by then Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, so whom Richard was Chief of Staff. Despite her apparent attempt to throw Richard under the buss, Lagarde was eventually found guilty of negligence. This didn’t prevent her eventually being made President of the European Central Bank.
The recent ruling found Richard guilty of complicity in the misuse of public funds and gave him a one-year suspended prison sentence. Of greater significance than the sentence, however, is Richard’s resulting criminal status, which has proven incompatible with his role running a telco that is still partly owned by the French state. ECB, take note.
When the appeals court verdict was announced, Richard issued the following statement. “The accusations of complicity in the misuse of public funds are without any foundation whatsoever and have no basis in fact. I reject them absolutely and will now take my appeal to the French high court of justice (Cour de cassation). No new elements have emerged in this appeal process and I remind you that I was totally acquitted in first instance by the Court.
“During the process, the charges have shifted from fraud to complicity in fraud and then to my full acquittal, and now today to the dismissal of the complicity in fraud charge, but a verdict on a new charge of complicity in the misuse of public funds… This is totally incomprehensible and profoundly unjust.
“I simply carried out a ministerial decision to go to arbitration for which Christine Lagarde assumed complete responsibility and for which she was then found guilty of simple negligence. I will now leave to the Board of Directors any decision in respect of my mandate at Orange.”
The board took little time to decide to withdraw Richard’s mandate. “Following the verdict reached by the Paris Appeal Court, the Orange group’s Board of Directors met today and took note of Stéphane Richard’s decision to hand over his mandate as Chairman and CEO,” said the resulting Communiqué.
“The Board has accepted his resignation. This will take effect once the new governance structure has been appointed and at the latest by 31 January 2022. Stéphane Richard will continue in his role until this date.”
You have to assume Richard will also step down as Chairman of mobile trade association GSMA, if only because he will no longer be working for an operator, but we had seen no comment from the GSMA on the matter at time of writing. It will also be interesting to see who will be willing to give him a job if he wins his high court case.