What we know about the Business France case, in which the Minister of Labor is cited

January 6, 2016, a year before the presidential campaign. Emmanuel Macron is still Minister of the Economy and goes to the “French Tech Night”, an evening to promote French high-tech organized as part of the CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas and bringing together 500 personalities in “a very chic hotel reserved at a golden price”.

At the initiative of the evening is Business France, a public agency under the supervision of three ministries (foreign affairs, economy and regional planning) and responsible for promoting the international development of French companies. In its edition of March 8, 2017, the chained duck specifies that this “seduction operation” has been “raised in an emergency, at the express request of the minister’s office [de l’économie]. » The Business France agency then designated the organization of this evening to the company Havas, a world giant in communication and advertising.

The problem is that it seems that Business France, whose director was then Muriel Pénicaud, the current Minister of Labor, appointed the organization to Havas without making any call for tenders, which is illegal (according to the ordinance 2005-649 of June 6, 2005, to which Business France is subject as a public establishment of an industrial and commercial nature). Havas argues for its part that the solicitation is completely legal, because it would be part of a framework contract on “the promotion of the economic attractiveness of France”baptized “Creative France”, signed six months earlier with Business France.

Suspicions of favoritism

The management of Business France was commissioned in 2016 from Ernst & Young (E & Y) an internal audit considered “very alarmist”, according The chained Duck, and forwarded to its supervising ministers. It was on the basis of this audit that Michel Sapin, then Minister of Finance, commissioned a report from the General Inspectorate of Finance (IGF) in December of the same year, which was submitted to him in February 2017. The conclusions of the investigative work indicating that “the order of the Havas service is likely to fall under the offense of favoritism” and evoke “malfunctions likely to engage the responsibility of their authors”, always according to the satirical weekly.

The amount of the organization of the event amounts to 381,759 euros. But one “settlement agreement”, concluded between Havas France and Business France, finally reduced the public bill to 290,000 euros, ie 90,000 euros less than the initial bill. This agreement was validated on February 28 by the Board of Directors of Business France and was validated by the IGF in its February report.

Following these revelations, the Paris prosecutor’s office opened a preliminary investigation on March 13, 2017 into these suspicions of the offense of favoritism. Business France reacted to information from chained duck on March 8, admitting that “ given the deadlines”the choice of provider had been made “according to a procedure liable to be affected by irregularity. » Asked by The chained Duck, Muriel Pénicaud defended herself on the same line, without formally denying any legal irregularities. “Macron’s cabinet asked us in mid-December to organize the demonstration three weeks later. The delay was untenable”she thinks then.

The roles of Pénicaud and Macron become clearer

According to the E & Y audit and the IGF report consulted by Releasethe involvement of Muriel Pénicaud would be “manifest”. The daily recalls in particular that the current Minister of Labor validated at the time two payments from Business France for the organization of the evening, made irregularly in December 2015 and January 2016. On November 20, 2015, an email sent to Ms. Pénicaud informs him that the provisional budget amounts to 300,000 euros, of which 235,000 could remain the responsibility of Business France, an amount greater than the legal threshold of 207,000 euros above deactivated a call for tenders becomes mandatory , revealed The world. The latter’s lawyer argues that it is indeed a budget provisional and not final. Still, Muriel Pénicaud cannot claim to have ignored the amount and the risk of irregularities that this posed to the agency she headed.

Several elements also weaken the defense of Muriel Pénicaud in this case. Contrary to what she indicates, Muriel Pénicaud did not “immediately provoked an audit and then a general inspection”. The Managing Director of Business France was actually alerted by the agency’s purchasing department, following which “Penicaud had no real choice but to favor an audit”comments a senior official from Bercy interviewed by Release. The audit commissioned by Pénicaud, who did not see fit to inform the audit committee of this order, remained in Pénicaud’s office for many months before landing on Michel Sapin’s office in December 2016, alerted by the economic and financial controller of the public agency. Muriel Pénicaud only informed her board of directors at that time, presenting a truncated summary of the situation, erasing almost all the irregularities pointed out by the firm E & Y, still according to Release.

As for Emmanuel Macron, Michel Sapin revealed that the former Minister of the Economy had no responsibility in this affair. “At no time is the slightest reference to Emmanuel Macron or his cabinet made in the IGF report, Emmanuel Macron is never cited or questioned. It is a dysfunction of Business France”, he told the World March 15, 2017. Information somewhat nuanced by Release, which indicates that the cabinet of Emmanuel Macron interfered on several occasions in the organization of the evening, in particular in the choice of the hotel. An interference that the pilot of the organization of the evening, Fabienne Bothy-Chesneau, briefly mentions in an email transcribed in the audit of E & Y, annoyed by the attitude of Macron’s cabinet: “It’s Business France that decides and we are friendly and associated with the French Tech mission as well as the cab. Not the opposite. »

Heard by the police on June 21, 2017, Ms. Bothy-Chesneau insisted on the responsibility of Ms. Pénicaud, saying that she had “exactly the same level of knowledge” what “Commitments and organizational methods”. “What mattered to him was that Business France organized a successful evening”she added.

Either way, the investigation continues. On July 7, the Paris prosecutor’s office announced that it was opening a judicial investigation “against a person not named on the counts of favoritism and concealment of favouritism”. Tuesday, June 20, 2017, as part of the preliminary investigation, the police officers of the Central Office for the Fight against Corruption and Offenses (OCLCIFF) carried out simultaneous searches at the headquarters of the advertising group Havas and the public agency Business France, according to sources close to the investigation. Fabienne Bothy-Chesneau was placed under the status of witness assisted by the investigating judges on September 21, 2017.

Update of June 28, 2017 at 12:22 p.m.: added new information on the role of Muriel Pénicaud and Emmanuel Macron’s cabinet following the Revelations of Release dated the same day.

Update of July 4, 2017 at 11:20 a.m.: addition of new information on the transmission by Muriel Pénicaud of a truncated summary to the Board of Directors of Business France.

Update of July 7, 2017 at 11:39 am: addition of the opening of the judicial information communicated by the Paris prosecutor’s office.

Update of July 14, 2017 at 11:57 am: addition of details as to the progress of the judicial inquiry into what Muriel Pénicaud knew.

Updated May 22, 2018 at 10:42 a.m.: added latest developments from the investigation, including assisted witness status.

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