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

January 6, 2016, one year before the presidential campaign. Emmanuel Macron is still the Minister of Economy and is going to “French Tech Night”, an evening to promote French high technology, organized as part of the CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas and brings together 500 personalities in “A very smart hotel booked at a golden price”.

At the initiative of the evening, Business France, a public body supervised by three ministries (Foreign Affairs, Economy and Regional Planning), is responsible for promoting the international development of French companies. In its edition of March 8, 2017, that chained duck clarifies that this “seduction operation” been “raised in an emergency at the express request of the Minister’s Office [de l’économie]. » The Business France agency then entrusted the organization of this evening to the company Havas, a world giant in communications and advertising.

The problem is that it seems that Business France, whose director at the time was Muriel Pénicaud, the current Minister of Labor, entrusted the organization to Havas without submitting a tender, which is illegal (according to the Executive Order 2005-649 of 6 June). , 2005, to which Business France is a public and industrial undertaking). Havas, for its part, claims that the call is completely legal because it would be part of a framework contract. “promoting France’s economic attractiveness”christened “Creative France”, signed six months earlier with Business France.

Suspicion of favoritism

In 2016, Business France management commissioned Ernst & Young (E&Y) to conduct an internal audit “very alarming”, according to The chained duck, and forwarded to its supervisory ministers. It was on the basis of this revision that Michel Sapin, the 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 study work suggest that “The order of the Havas service is likely to fall under favoritism” and evoke “errors that are likely to involve the responsibilities of their authors”, always according to the satirical weekly.

The amount for 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 original bill. This agreement was validated on 28 February by the Board of Directors of Business France and was considered valid by the IGF in its February report.

Following these revelations, on March 13, 2017, the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Paris opened a preliminary investigation into these suspicions of favoritism. Business France responded to information from chained duck on 8 March and admitted that “ given deadlines “the choice of service provider had been made “according to a procedure that could potentially be affected by irregularities.” asked by The chained duck, Muriel Pénicaud defended himself along the same lines without formally rejecting the possible legal irregularities. “Macron’s cabinet asked us in mid-December to organize the demonstration three weeks later. The delay was untenable.”she thought then.

The roles of Pénicaud and Macron become clearer

According to the E&Y audit and the IGF report consulted by Releasewould be the involvement of Muriel Pénicaud “manifest”. Dagbladet reveals in particular that the current Minister of Labor at the time validated 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 Mrs. Pénicaud informs him that the estimated budget amounts to 300,000 euros, of which 235,000 could continue to be Business France’s liability, an amount above the legal threshold of 207,000 euros, above which a tender becomes mandatory, revealed The world. The latter’s lawyer claims that it is indeed a budget temporary and not finally. Still, Muriel Pénicaud can not claim to have ignored the amount and risk of irregularities that this entailed for the agency she headed.

Several elements also weaken Muriel Pénicaud’s defense in this case. Contrary to what she indicates, Muriel Pénicaud did not “immediately provoked an audit and then a general inspection”. The CEO of Business France was actually alerted by the agency’s purchasing department, after which “Penicaud had no choice but to trigger an audit”comments a senior official from Bercy interviewed by Release. The audit commissioned by Pénicaud, which did not consider it appropriate to inform the audit committee of this order, remained at Pénicaud’s office for many months before landing at Michel Sapin’s office in December 2016, warned by the Public Prosecutor’s Office. Muriel Pénicaud first informed his board of directors at the time, presenting an abridged summary of the situation, and deleting almost all the irregularities that the company E & Y had pointed out, still according to. Release.

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

Heared by the police on 21 June 2017, Mrs Bothy-Chesneau insisted on the responsibility of Mrs Pénicaud and said that she had “exactly the same level of knowledge” what “amounts committed and organizational arrangements”. “What mattered to him was that Business France hosted a successful evening”she added.

In any case, the investigation continues. On July 7, the prosecution in Paris announced that it was opening a judicial inquiry “against an unnamed person for favoritism and concealment of favoritism”. On Tuesday, June 20, 2017, as part of the preliminary investigation, police officers from the Central Office for Combating Corruption and Crime (OCLCIFF) conducted 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 as a witness assisted by the investigating judges on September 21, 2017.

Update of June 28, 2017 at. 12:22: 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: addition of new information on Muriel Pénicaud’s transfer of an abbreviated summary to the Board of Directors of Business France.

Update of 7 July 2017 at 11:39: addition of the opening of the judicial information announced by the Paris Prosecution Service.

Update of 14 July 2017 at 11:57: adding details of the course of the judicial inquiry into what Muriel Pénicaud knew.

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

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