PARIS, November 24 (Hfrance.fr) - Orange (ORAN.PA) , France's largest telecommunications operator, said on Wednesday it would find a successor to its Chairman and CEO Stephane Richard by January 31 after a Paris appeal court sentenced him for complicityembezzlement of public funds.
Richard's conviction is a blow to the former senior official, who has always denied any wrongdoing. The verdict of the court, which sentenced him to a one-year suspended prison sentence, precipitates his departure from the group he has led for 11 years.
The Board of Directors accepted Richard's resignation at a meeting that ended around 19:00 GMT.
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He will remain in the role on an interim basis while the company searches for a replacement, the company said. It was not clear whether the group intended to separate the roles of chairman and CEO.
Richard had previously stated that it was up to the board to decide whether to keep his job. He called the court's decision "profoundlyunfair "and said he would appeal.
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire has repeatedly stated that the government position is that the bosses of state-owned companies should resign if found guilty of a crime.
The French state has a combined stake of 23 % in the old monopoly and the intention of the government until now has been to separate the roles of CEO and chairman.
Orange CEO Stephane Richard attends an interview during the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, Spain , June 29, 2021. Hfrance.fr/Albert Gea / File Photo
Richard's current mandate officially expires in May 2022. He had already declared that he would not seek to stay as CEO but was willing to stay as chairman.
Earlier Wednesday, Richard, also sentenced to 50,000 euros fine but cleared of the count of complicity in fraud, left the court in all haste, accompanied by the communications manager of Orange, Beatrice Mandine.
The case concerned a payment of 400 million euros ($ 450 million) from the French state to the late magnate Bernard Tapie in 2008. Tapie accused the government of having him defrauded when he sold as taking sportswear group Adidas to a state-backed bank in 1992.
At time of settlement Richard was chief of staff to the then French finance minister from 2008. Christine Lagarde, now president of the European Central Bank. Lagarde, who also denied committing wrongdoing, was convicted of negligence in the case in December 2016.
Judge Sophie Clement declared that Richard had "committed serious acts by promoting the interests of Bernard Tapie in to the detriment of those of the state. "
Richard is credited with improving relations between employees and executives at'Orange at the start of his tenure, when the company was reeling from a wave of suicides of staff members.
He also helped boost its bottom line after the 2012 entry of rival Iliad The low-cost brand Free, which sparked a protracted war in the mobile industry, and launched a new online banking service.
However, Orange 'The share price did not improve during Richard ' s tenure. His shares, which were trading at around 11 euros when he became CEO, barely budged after the court verdict and came in at just under 10 euros.
Register -you now for FREE and unlimited access to Hfrance.fr.com Additional reporting by Gwenaelle Barzic, written by Silvia Aloisi; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle and Chizu Nomiyama
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