French luxury firm LVMH to pay €10 million to settle spying claims

LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, a conglomerate that sells luxury goods from fashion to super-yachts, it to pay out a huge settlement after being accused of hiring the former head of France's domestic intelligence agency to spy on critics.

LVMH, the conglomerate behind Louis Vuitton, has paid out a huge settlement after being accused of spying on private citizens.
LVMH, the conglomerate behind Louis Vuitton, has paid out a huge settlement after being accused of spying on private citizens. (Photo by Eva Marie UZCATEGUI / AFP)

French luxury behemoth LVMH will pay 10 million euros ($11.3 million) to settle claims that it hired France’s former domestic intelligence chief to spy on private citizens, in particular on a filmmaker who made a widely popular documentary targeting the group’s CEO.

A Paris court on Friday validated the settlement offered by prosecutors, ending an inquiry opened in 2011 against the fashion conglomerate controlled by Bernard Arnault, the world’s third-richest person according to Forbes magazine.

The ruling infuriated Francois Ruffin, a journalist, filmmaker and now leftwing politician who made headlines in 2016 with “Merci Patron!” (Thanks Boss!), a film that skewered Arnault as a heartless tycoon impoverishing the French working class.

Ruffin filed a lawsuit in 2019 claiming that LVMH contracted the former head of France’s DGSI domestic intelligence agency, Bernard Squarcini, to spy on him for nearly three years while filming the movie, which won a Cesar — France’s equivalent of the Oscars — as best documentary in 2017.

The film recounts the David-versus-Goliath travails of Jocelyne and Serge Klur, two former textile employees who were among dozens laid off by one of LVMH’s subcontractors after their work was outsourced to Poland.

It became a hit with audiences who cheered the couple as they attempt to make Arnault fork over the money to save their home and land Serge a full-time job.

Ruffin had urged the court to refuse the settlement, saying 10 million euros was just 0.02 percent of the nearly 45 billion euros in revenue last year for LVMH, whose brands include Louis Vuitton, Dior, Givenchy and the Sephora cosmetics chain.

“Can justice be bought so cheaply? The answer is yes,” Ruffin told journalists after the hearing Friday.

“It’s a blank check for all future spying operations by multinationals. All LVMH had to do was pay to get out of the proceedings,” he said.

The vice-president of the Paris court, Caroline Viguier, said the settlement took into account LVMH’s “cooperation” in the inquiry and “its efforts to prevent any repeat of such incidents”.

“There is no institutionalised system [for spying] in place within LVMH and the group accepts its responsibilities, including with regards to the failings that took place,” the company’s legal director Jerome Sibille told the court.

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Pensioner held over murder on French nudist beach

A 75-year-old man has been arrested in France over a murder on a well-known nudist beach outside the southeastern city of Lyon, prosecutors said.

Pensioner held over murder on French nudist beach

The victim, aged 46, was killed on Saturday at the La Mama beach on a lake in the Lyon suburb of Miribel, regional prosecutors said.

The 75-year-old is suspected of shooting the victim multiple times in the bushes nearby following a dispute that arose after the younger man allegedly exposed himself in front of a woman, they added.

The regional daily Le Progres said that the suspect is a member of a shooting club and legally possesses a calibre 22 rifle. The victim was known to the police, it said.

The Le Parisien daily added that according to its information the victim had been a cause of trouble on the beach all Saturday morning with tensions rising to a peak when he began to masturbate in front of a woman.

An altercation ensued at which point the septuagenarian reached for his gun.

Le Progres said that at the peak of the summer season the beach — well known to Lyon’s inhabitants — was operating as normal on Sunday.

Participants in the World Naked Bike Ride France arrived even as police carried out investigations and images showed naked bathers enjoying the hot weather.