Case Business France: the journey to Las Vegas that continues Pénicaud

It was a sword of Damocles that hovered over her, but without disturbing her appointment with Bercy. Labor Minister Muriel Pénicaud now knows that she will be summoned before the examining magistrate on May 22 to explain the very expensive trip from Las Vegas that she organized in 2016 for Emmanuel Macron, then Minister of Economy.

In March 2017, the Paris prosecutor’s office opened an investigation for “favoritism and concealment of favoritism” after confirming that the evening for French entrepreneurs at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) had indeed been entrusted to Havas without appeal. Reminder of facts.

What happened in Las Vegas?

We remember his three-day beard and his relaxed demeanor at French tech startups. On January 6, 2016, the former Minister of Economic Affairs is not yet a candidate for the succession of François Hollande, but he finds it increasingly difficult to hide his ambitions. Anxious to appear close to entrepreneurs, a few months earlier he ordered a major communication operation from his departments in Bercy, including his journey to the great masses of technological innovation and a “French Tech Night memorable to celebrate French start-ups. The bet won, the contestants came out delighted and the regulars acknowledged that, compared to previous evenings of the genre, “there was a real show.” Cost of operation: 381,759 euros (289,000 euros after renegotiation), including 45,000 euros in hotel costs.

Who organized the party?

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

In 2016, Muriel Pénicaud, former HRD of Danone, spearheaded this epic public establishment. For the evening ordered by Macron, Business France entrusted the organization itself to a specialized agency, the communication giant Havas (Vivendi). According to internal documents we were able to consult in July, a team of five people worked on the subject for just over 11 days, from France, relying on American consultants.

What do we blame Muriel Pénicaud for?

Under public law, the problem is not to call on a service provider, which is common practice, but to do so without issuing a tender that would have enabled other companies to position themselves, with possibly cheaper or better services. This is a violation of government procurement competition rules. And besides being director of Business France at the time of this choice, the justice system suspects the current minister of having participated in favoritism towards 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 promotion operation called Creative France. Muriel Pénicaud and the vice-chairman of Havas, Stéphane Fouks, will then be in permanent contact. At the time of Bercy’s urgent order to Business France, she would therefore have mandated her interlocutor by sparing herself the usual procedure.

Are there any indications of his involvement?

Two types of emails, seized on June 20 during house searches at the headquarters of Business France, embarrass Muriel Pénicaud. First, those disclosed by the JDD in July, which seem to prove that the director of the public agency was notified much earlier than she claims (i.e. one month after the event, she says), discrepancies and additional budgetary costs of the evening. In particular, that of Françoise Bothy-Chesneau, communications director of Business France, already heard by the jury members: “Muriel briefed by us does nothing. So it will also work when the Court of Auditors asks for bills, it will not be because it has been said and repeated. †

According to Le Canard enchaîné this week, researchers discovered other emails by undergoing the same attack. These testify to the relationship between the vice president of Havas and Pénicaud before the official award of the contract. In particular, on June 4, 2015, the director wrote to her assistant: “I have a secret appointment with (Stéphane) Fouks, it must not be on my agenda and it must not be known. †

Did Emmanuel Macron Know?

Did the future chairman play a role in the award of the contract and subsequently in the budgetary scope of the event? Françoise Bothy-Chesneau, linchpin of the evening, explained the exceedances due to the very short deadlines, the urgency and the intention of the future candidate to impress.

As for the legal battle, Macron “is absolutely not involved in this case”, “a failure, an administrative incident” whose “logical” continuation was the opening of this investigation, had argued in the middle of the campaign for the entourage of the future head of state.

However, several observers have noted the close connection between certain Macronists and Havas. His right-hand man, Ismaël Emelien, who became a special adviser at the Elysée, worked for the group. On Tuesday evening, LR deputy Daniel Fasquelle indicated that he plans to “submit a request for a commission of inquiry to the National Assembly to shed full light on the resources Emmanuel Macron used to win the presidential election”.

Leave a Comment