What is the “Business France” case that worries Muriel Pénicaud?

FOCUS – The Labor Secretary will be heard as a witness on Tuesday in the investigation into the contract for Emmanuel Macron, then minister, to travel to Las Vegas in 2016. She was director general of the operation’s public agency at the time.

This Tuesday, Muriel Pénicaud was heard by the judges as part of the investigation into Emmanuel Macron’s controversial 2016 trip to Las Vegas. At the end of his hearing, which lasted several hours, his lawyer announced that she was under the status of assisted witness remained. † She therefore, at this stage, avoids being charged in this investigation for “favoritism and concealment of nepotism” directed against Business France, the agency for the promotion of the French economy abroad of which she was managing director at the time. The minister left around 2:15 p.m., five hours after arriving at the financial center of the new courthouse, in northwestern Paris

Le Figaro goes back in detail to this affair that has been hovering over the government like a sword of Damocles for a year.

• Minister Macron in Las Vegas

On January 6, 2016, Emmanuel Macron, still François Hollande’s Minister of Economy, met French entrepreneurs at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), a great mass of technological innovation. The operation was set up by Business France, an agency dependent on Bercy for the promotion of the French economy abroad, of which Muriel Pénicaud was then general manager.

Virtually all services would have been entrusted to Havas without a tender procedure. A maneuver contrary to French law. The Criminal Code provides for a mandatory tender for the award of public contracts exceeding 25,000 euros. However, the communications agency received 289,019 euros for the operation.

• Inquiry opened for “guardianship and concealment of favoritism”

In March 2017, the Paris prosecutor’s office opened a preliminary investigation after receiving a report from the General Inspectorate of Finance (IGF). The investigation, disclosed to the public by the chained duck, is entrusted to the Central Bureau for Combating Corruption, Financial and Tax Offenses. In mid-June, a series of searches took place at the headquarters of the Havas group and the Business France agency. They lead to the opening of a judicial investigation against X in early July for “favoritism and concealment of favoritism”. The case has been entrusted to three investigating judges, including Renaud Van Ruymbeke.

• The Shameful Testimony of Fabienne Bothy-Chesneau

Fabienne Bothy-Chesneau, Muriel Pénicaud’s former communications director, is also being heard by the investigators. She doesn’t deliver the same version as her then-boss, explaining that if she was indeed responsible for the night’s performance in Las Vegas, she had no decision-making power. Even worse, the former employee ensures that from the end of November 2015 the evening at CES is continuously discussed with Muriel Pénicaud. Heard by the judges on September 21, Fabienne Bothy-Chesneau is placed under assisted witness status.

Havas argues that the services of the Las Vegas operation are covered by a framework contract for the period from June 15, 2015 to December 31, 2016 for an amount of approximately EUR 6.6 million. In early May, the group assures that none of its leaders has been heard by the investigators.

• The intermediate status of “assisted witness”

The investigators are now trying to determine whether Muriel Pénicaud could have been notified in advance of these possible malfunctions, which she has always denied. “It was I who warned the board of directors, it was I who initiated the audit,” emphasized the former director-general of Business France in July. the daily Release however, claims that Muriel Pénicaud did not notify its board of directors until December 2016, almost a year after the Las Vegas event. In addition, it would have presented a watered-down version of the anomalies listed from a report of some sixty pages.

Members of government may only appear as witnesses with the approval of the Council of Ministers. A provision that does not apply when they are heard as a witness. On May 8, her entourage confirms the information that she will be heard by the judges under this interim status.

Between a simple witness and the indictment, this status means that there is “evidence that makes it plausible that she could have participated in the commission of the offenses which the judge has seized”. However, justice currently has no “serious and consistent evidence” against him. If Muriel Pénicaud was charged at the end of the investigation, the minister guaranteed that she would submit her resignation to the prime minister.

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