Business France case: the trip to Las Vegas that continues Pénicaud

It was a sword of Damocles hovering over her, without, however, disturbing her agreement on Bercy. The Secretary of Labor, Muriel Pénicaud, now knows that on May 22, she will be summoned to an investigating judge to explain about the very expensive trip from Las Vegas, which she arranged in 2016 for Emmanuel Macron, the then Secretary of the Economy.

In March 2017, the Paris prosecution launched an investigation into “favoritism and concealment of favoritism” after confirming that the evening put together for French entrepreneurs at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) had in fact been entrusted to Havas without appeal. Recall of facts.

What Happened in Las Vegas?

We remember his three-day beard and his relaxed attitude displayed among French Tech startups. On January 6, 2016, the former finance minister is not yet a candidate for the legacy of François Hollande, but he is finding it increasingly difficult to hide his ambitions. Eager to perform close to entrepreneurs, a few months earlier he ordered a major communications operation from his departments in Bercy, including his trip to the high mass of technological innovation as well as a “French Tech Night memorable to celebrate French start-ups. Bet won, participants come out happy, and regulars acknowledge that, compared to previous nights in the genre, “there was a real show.” Cost of the operation: 381,759 euros (289,000 euros after renegotiation), including 45,000 euros for hotel costs.

Who hosted the party?

Affiliated with the Ministry of Economy, but also the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or even the Ministry of Housing, the Business France structure (merger of Ubifrance and the French International Investment Agency) is particularly responsible for helping SMEs better plan internationally and attract more foreign investors to France.

In 2016, it was Muriel Pénicaud, former HRD for Danone, who spearheaded this epic public establishment. For the evening commissioned by Macron, Business France itself entrusted the organization to a specialized agency, the communications giant Havas (Vivendi). According to internal documents that we were able to consult in July, a team of five people worked a little more than eleven days on the subject, from France, and trusted American consultants.

What do we blame Muriel Pénicaud?

As far as public law is concerned, the problem is not to have requested a service provider, which is common, but to have done so without formulating a tender which would have enabled other companies to position themselves with potentially cheaper or better quality services. . This is a violation of the competition rules of public procurement. And in addition to being director of Business France at the time of this election, the judiciary suspects the current minister of having participated in favoring Havas. At the same time, the group is in the process of winning another market – this time with a tender – against two competitors for a technology advancement operation called Creative France. Muriel Pénicaud and the Vice President of Havas, Stéphane Fouks, are then in permanent contact. At the time of Bercy’s urgent order to Business France, she would therefore have authorized her interlocutor by saving herself from the usual procedure.

Is there evidence of his involvement?

Two types of emails seized on June 20 during searches at Business France’s headquarters embarrass Muriel Pénicaud. First, those revealed in July by the JDD, which seem to prove that the director of the public body was made aware, much earlier than she claims (i.e., according to her, a month after the event), discrepancies and additional budgetary costs relating to. in the evening. In particular, the one written by Françoise Bothy-Chesneau, communications director for Business France, who has already been heard by the judges: “Muriel briefed by us does nothing. So it will also work when the Court of Auditors asks for accounts, it will not be in the absence of having said and repeated. “

According to the Le Canard enchaîné this week, investigators discovered other emails while going through the same seizure. These testify to the relationship between Havas’ Vice-President and Pénicaud before the official award of the contract. On June 4, 2015, the director wrote to especially her assistant: “I have a secret meeting with (Stéphane) Fouks, it must not be on my agenda, and it must not be known. »

Did Emmanuel Macron know that?

Did the future president play a role in the award of the contract and then in the budgetary scope of the event? Françoise Bothy-Chesneau, the center of the evening, explained the exceedances with the very short deadlines, the urgency and the future candidate’s intention to impress.

As for the legal confusions, Macron is “absolutely not worried about this affair”, “a failure, an administrative incident”, whose “logical” continuation was the opening of this investigation, had in the middle of the campaign called for the future to follow. head of state.

Several observers, however, have noted the closeness between certain macronists and Havas. His right hand man, Ismaël Emelien, who became a specialist adviser at the Elysée, worked for the group, for example. On Tuesday night, LR deputy Daniel Fasquelle announced that he intended to submit “a request for a commission of inquiry to the National Assembly to shed full light on the means used by Emmanuel Macron to win the presidential election”.

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