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Orange chief faces fraud charges in Lagarde probe

The head of Orange France (formerly operating as France Telecom) was charged with fraud on Wednesday by French police investigating alleged corruption involving French politician and IMF chief Christine Lagarde.

Orange chief faces fraud charges in Lagarde probe
Orange boss Stéphane Richard, pictured on February 20th. Richard was charged with fraud as part of a corruption scandal involving IMF chief Christine Lagarde. Photo: Eric Piermont/AFP

Stéphane Richard, the head of telecoms company Orange and a former aide to IMF chief Christine Lagarde, was charged Wednesday with fraud in a corruption probe dating from her time as France's finance minister.

Reacting to the charges, he was described as being in "confident and combative" mood by close friends.

Richard was Lagarde's chief of staff when, in 2008, she sanctioned a state payout of €400 million euros to disgraced tycoon Bernard Tapie.

Richard had been taken in for questioning on Monday, along with Jean-François Rocchi, who headed a financial institution created to hold the non-performing assets owned by the Credit Lyonnais bank, the source said.

The International Monetary Fund chief was questioned for two days in May about the €400-million payout to Tapie, but she avoided charges and was instead named an "assisted witness".

The arbitration followed a dispute between the businessman and partly state-owned bank Credit Lyonnais over his 1993 sale of sports group Adidas.

The panel upheld Tapie's claim that Credit Lyonnais had defrauded him by intentionally undervaluing Adidas at the time of the sale and that the state, as the bank's principal shareholder, should compensate him.

Orange had said on Monday that Richard would continue to remain the company head.

Investigators have also been probing whether Tapie was favoured in return for having supported ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy, Lagarde's then boss, in the 2007 presidential election.

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FRAUD

Massive Côte du Rhône fine-wine fraud uncovered by French police

Some 66.5 million bottles of wine, the equivalent of 13 Olympic sized swimming pools full of plonk, was falsely sold as high quality Côtes-du-Rhône wine, French officials have revealed.

Massive Côte du Rhône fine-wine fraud uncovered by French police
Photo: Flickr

Almost half a million hectolitres of wine was sold off under the Côtes du Rhône AOC label – which denotes both the geographical origin of the wine and a certification of quality. 

Some of the wine, 10,000 litres in fact, was even falsely sold under the renowned Chateauneuf-du-Pape AOP label, the commercial value off which was €7000,000.

The massive fraud was revealed in a report this week by France's consumer fraud body the Direction Générale de la Concurrence, de la Consommation et de la Répression des Fraudes (DGCDRF).

Their inquiry into the 2017 scam unearthed a “massive misuse of the Côtes-du-Rhône label” including by a major wine producer, which has not been named.

But DGCCRF chief executive Virginie Beaumeunier told the press that the “CEO of the company” was “indicted for deception and fraud”.

Wine fraud in France has become an issue for authorities and customers alike in recent years with the problem being highlighted by the jailing in 2016 of a French wine baron.

Francois-Marie Marret was given a two-year sentence for fraud for blending poor quality wine with high-end Saint-Emilions, Lalande-de-Pomerols and Listrac-Medocs to sell to major supermarkets under prestigious labels.

The 800,000-litre (211,000-gallon) “moon wine” fraud, so called because the cheap wine was spirited to his operation by night, was uncovered thanks to the diligent work of French customs inspectors.

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The hunt for fraudsters in France's wine heartlands

The country has been hit by several fraud scandals in recent years.

In 2010, 12 French winemakers and dealers were convicted of selling millions of bottles of fake Pinot Noir to the US firm E&J Gallo.

Before that, in 2006 legendary Beaujolais winemaker Georges Duboeuf was fined more than 30,000 euros for blending grapes from different vineyards to disguise the poor quality of certain prized vintages.