Call for probe into sale of Printemps to Qataris

The purchase of the famous upmarket French department store Printemps by investors from Qatar needs to be investigated by authorities for possible corruption, money laundering and tax fraud, unions demanded this week.

Call for probe into sale of Printemps to Qataris
The famous French store Printemps, set to be bought by Qatari investors. Photo: MadebyMark/flickr

Unions at the French department store Printemps have asked authorities to open a probe into what they call opaque finances in the sale of the luxury shop chain to investors from the gas-rich Gulf state of Qatar.

"We have turned to the prosecutor because we have discovered multiple financial arrangements in the sale specifying exorbitant commissions and intermediaries which also get exorbitant sums," said Bernard Demarcq, the spokesman for the unions at the store chain.

"All this seems very opaque to us. This should be probed for possible corruption, breach of trust, money laundering and tax fraud," he added of the request submitted Tuesday.

According to documents seen by AFP, a group of Qatari investors will via a Luxembourg firm called Disa buy out the 70 percent shareholding of Deutsche Bank and the 30 percent owned by the Italian Borletti Group.

The value of the transaction, which should be finalised by the summer, was not detailed in the document. But one media report said the deal could be worth around €1.6 billion. The transaction is expected to be completed within months.

There are 16 Printemps stores in France, including the flagship Printemps-Haussmann shop in central Paris, with employ some 3,400 people.

France has proved attractive to Qatari investors who have bought Paris Saint-Germain football club and acquired three percent of energy giant Total as well as stakes in building firm Vinci and in media group Lagardere, although the investments have provoked some criticism among the French public.

Around 10 percent of Qatari foreign investments are in France.

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Qatar sues French politician for terror claim

Qatar is suing a far-right French politician for defaming the country "and all its citizens" after he linked the Gulf emirate to "terrorism" following the deadly Charlie Hebdo attack.

Qatar sues French politician for terror claim
Florian Philippot, a close advisor of party leader Marine Le Pen, is being sued by Qatar for claiming it funds terrorism. Photo: AFP

In an apparently rare legal action of a state suing an individual, Qatar has filed papers against Florian Philippot, a vice-president of the National Front, in a French court for defamation.

The legal action was confirmed in a statement released by Doha.

“The State of Qatar has filed a defamation complaint against Mr Florian Philippot,” read the statement.

“In the hours following the Paris terrorist attacks of January 2015 Qatar condemned these acts in the strongest terms, affirming its support to France and its solidarity with the victims. Qatar continues to do so.

“However Mr Philippot has repeatedly and publicly implied a link between these terrorist acts and the State of Qatar, affecting the reputation of Qatar and all its citizens.

“The State of Qatar therefore has no choice but to defend its name in the French courts.”

Legal papers have been filed in the western Paris suburb of Nanterre, lawyers told AFP.

The papers were filed in early April but only now has the case become publicly known.

Qatar's statement confirming legal action was dated May 30.

In the days after the January 7 gun attack on the satirical Paris magazine Charlie Hebdo which left 12 people dead, Philippot criticised Qatar — and Saudi Arabia — in the French media, saying: “These countries finance Islamism which kills”.

In response to the suit, a defiant Philippot, 33, who was the National Front's strategic director for leader Marine Le Pen's 2011 presidential campaign, told French TV station BFMTV, that “this is a very serious matter” and “called on all democrats” to support him.

He also tweeted on Monday: “Qatar will not silence me. An Islamist dictatorship will not dictate to the French what they have the right to say.”