French luxury firm LVMH to pay €10 million to settle spying claims

LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, a conglomerate that sells luxury goods from fashion to super-yachts, it to pay out a huge settlement after being accused of hiring the former head of France's domestic intelligence agency to spy on critics.

LVMH, the conglomerate behind Louis Vuitton, has paid out a huge settlement after being accused of spying on private citizens.
LVMH, the conglomerate behind Louis Vuitton, has paid out a huge settlement after being accused of spying on private citizens. (Photo by Eva Marie UZCATEGUI / AFP)

French luxury behemoth LVMH will pay 10 million euros ($11.3 million) to settle claims that it hired France’s former domestic intelligence chief to spy on private citizens, in particular on a filmmaker who made a widely popular documentary targeting the group’s CEO.

A Paris court on Friday validated the settlement offered by prosecutors, ending an inquiry opened in 2011 against the fashion conglomerate controlled by Bernard Arnault, the world’s third-richest person according to Forbes magazine.

The ruling infuriated Francois Ruffin, a journalist, filmmaker and now leftwing politician who made headlines in 2016 with “Merci Patron!” (Thanks Boss!), a film that skewered Arnault as a heartless tycoon impoverishing the French working class.

Ruffin filed a lawsuit in 2019 claiming that LVMH contracted the former head of France’s DGSI domestic intelligence agency, Bernard Squarcini, to spy on him for nearly three years while filming the movie, which won a Cesar — France’s equivalent of the Oscars — as best documentary in 2017.

The film recounts the David-versus-Goliath travails of Jocelyne and Serge Klur, two former textile employees who were among dozens laid off by one of LVMH’s subcontractors after their work was outsourced to Poland.

It became a hit with audiences who cheered the couple as they attempt to make Arnault fork over the money to save their home and land Serge a full-time job.

Ruffin had urged the court to refuse the settlement, saying 10 million euros was just 0.02 percent of the nearly 45 billion euros in revenue last year for LVMH, whose brands include Louis Vuitton, Dior, Givenchy and the Sephora cosmetics chain.

“Can justice be bought so cheaply? The answer is yes,” Ruffin told journalists after the hearing Friday.

“It’s a blank check for all future spying operations by multinationals. All LVMH had to do was pay to get out of the proceedings,” he said.

The vice-president of the Paris court, Caroline Viguier, said the settlement took into account LVMH’s “cooperation” in the inquiry and “its efforts to prevent any repeat of such incidents”.

“There is no institutionalised system [for spying] in place within LVMH and the group accepts its responsibilities, including with regards to the failings that took place,” the company’s legal director Jerome Sibille told the court.

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French police fire on fleeing suspects, killing one

French police opened fire on a vehicle whose driver attempted to flee when they approached, killing a passenger, prosecutors said on Friday.

French police fire on fleeing suspects, killing one

The incident follows a series of fatal shootings by officers that has revived debate over their use of force.

A patrol of four officers spotted the car, which had been reported stolen, in a parking lot in Venissieux, a suburb of the southeastern city of Lyon, just after midnight.

As they were about to check the occupants’ identity, the driver suddenly tried to flee, hitting an officer who was thrown onto the vehicle’s bonnet

He and another officer then fired several shots, prosecutors said, and when the car stopped moving, the patrol found two occupants with serious injuries.

The passenger died at the scene and the driver was hospitalised, and a police source said doctors declared him brain-dead.

The officers who opened fire were being questioned by the police’s internal investigations agency, a routine practice when officers use their weapons in the course of duty.

Police violence has been in the spotlight after several fatal shootings by officers, which critics see as a systemic use of excessive force and heavy-handed tactics by French security forces.

This month, police officers shot and killed a knife-wielding man, later identified as homeless, at the Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris.

In June, police shot a woman dead in a car in northern Paris after the vehicle failed to stop when summoned by officers and then allegedly drove towards them at speed.

In April, prosecutors charged a 24-year-old officer with involuntary manslaughter after he used his assault rifle to shoot at a car that sought to escape a patrol in Paris, killing the driver and injuring a passenger.

And last March, angry residents clashed with police during several tense nights in the suburbs north of Paris to protest a fatal shooting by an officer against a van that had been reported stolen.

Under French law, the only justification for an officer using a weapon is when his or her life is in danger.

Particularly contested are patrols carrying assault rifles, which authorities began issuing after mass killings by jihadists in Paris on November 13th, 2015, and a subsequent wave of deadly Islamist attacks.

The government has vowed to take action to restore confidence in security forces, and the divisive issues of police violence and crime were brought to the fore in France’s presidential election this year.

Police unions say officers often face hostility and attacks, and are faced with the difficult task of trying to maintain order in impoverished high-rise housing estates that in some cases are centres of drug dealing and other criminality.