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Former chief executive of France Telecom Didier Lombard and six other managers are to stand trial over a spate of suicides among their staff in the late 2000s.

French prosecutors have long claimed they presided over a culture of harassment at the company that led at least 19 employees to kill themselves.

The former managers are accused of “moral harassment”.

Didier Lombard and his fellow defendants deny their tough restructuring measures in 2006 were to blame for the subsequent loss of life.

Image source Wikimedia

Didier Lombard, former France Telecom head, probed over suicides

Stephane Richard: France Telecom-Orange CEO held in custody in corruption case

The push for greater efficiency came two years after France Telecom was privatized. Didier Lombard was trying to cut 22,000 jobs and retrain at least 10,000 workers.

“I’ll get them out one way or another, through the window or through the door,” Didier Lombard was quoted as telling senior managers in 2007.

Some of France Telecom were transferred away from their families or left behind when offices were moved, or assigned demeaning jobs.

From 2008 onwards, at least 19 members of staff took their own lives, 12 attempted suicide and eight others suffered from depression and related illnesses.

Didier Lombard has accepted the restructuring upset employees but rejected the idea that it led to people taking their own lives.

France Telecom became Orange in 2013.

An Orange spokesman said in response to news of the trial: “As it has always said, Orange rejects the accusations and will make its case during the public hearing which will be scheduled in the coming months.”

If found guilty, Didier Lombard and the other defendants could face two years in prison and 30,000 euros ($35,000) in fines.

Stephane Richard, CEO of France Telecom-Orange, has been held in custody for questioning in Bernard Tapie corruption case.

Stephane Richard, who previously worked in the French Finance Ministry, was quizzed over his role in a 2008 payment made to the businessman Bernard Tapie.

The businessman denies any wrongdoing.

Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), has also been called upon to testify in the case.

She was the French Finance Minister at the time in question while Stephane Richard was her chief of staff.

Stephane Richard, CEO of France Telecom-Orange, has been held in custody for questioning in Bernard Tapie corruption case

Stephane Richard, CEO of France Telecom-Orange, has been held in custody for questioning in Bernard Tapie corruption case

France Telecom-Orange said the questioning was expected and that Stephane Richard remained in charge. He can be held for up to 48 hours.

His contract at the partly state-owned company is up for renewal next year and the position is chosen by the government.

“The state in its role as a shareholder will take a position if needed at the right time on the continuing case,” Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg said in a statement.

The Court of Justice of the Republic, which investigates ministerial misconduct in France, is looking into claims that Bernard Tapie may have received favorable treatment because of his support for the former President, Nicolas Sarkozy.

He received a payment of 400 million euros ($520 million) as part of a settlement in a long-running business dispute, which critics say was too generous.

After two days of questioning Christine Lagarde was made a key witness in the case – a status that means she is unlikely to be prosecuted.

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