Orange CEO’s future in doubt after misuse of public funds conviction By Reuters

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Orange chief executive Stephane Richard reacts after being acquitted of any wrongdoing in a fraud trial, clearing the way for him to remain at the helm of the country’s biggest telecom operator in Paris, France, July 9, 2019. REUTERS/Charles P

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By Mathieu Rosemain

PARIS (Reuters) – Stephane Richard, CEO of France’s biggest telecoms company Orange, was handed a one year suspended prison sentence on Wednesday after he was convicted of complicity of misuse of public funds by a Paris appeals court.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire has repeatedly said that the government position is that bosses of state-controlled companies should quit if convicted of a crime and Richard’s sentence could spell the end of his career at Orange.

Richard was first appointed in 2010 as chief executive of state-controlled Orange, which is due to hold a board meeting on governance later, sources had told Reuters before the verdict.

The appeals court also fined Richard, who denied any wrongdoing and had been acquitted in a first trial, 50,000 euros. He was cleared of the charge of complicity of fraud.

The former civil servant had already told French media that he would not seek to remain CEO at the end of his third four-year term in May 2022 but was keen to stay on as chairman.

The case concerned a 400 million-euro ($450 million) French state payout to the late business tycoon Bernard Tapie in 2008.

At the time, Richard was chief of staff to then French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, who is now President of the European Central Bank. Lagarde, who had also denied wrongdoing, was convicted of negligence over the affair in December 2016.

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