Orange CEO quits after fraud conviction

Stéphane Richard's wish to hang onto the role of chairman at Orange after his mandate ends in May 2022 is not going to be granted after all. The France-based group's CEO and chairman has now resigned after a ruling by the Paris Court of Appeal went against him in the long-running "affaire Tapie."

Orange issued a brief statement noting that the board of directors has accepted Richard's decision to hand over his mandate as chairman and CEO. Richard will remain in his role until January 31, 2022 at the latest until a new CEO and chairman have been appointed.

Yesterday, the court found Richard guilty of "complicity in the misuse of public funds" in the fraud case that dates back to 2008. Richard was accused of helping businessman Bernard Tapie cheat the French government out of around €403 million (US$455 million). He was handed a one-year suspended jail sentence and fined €50,000 ($56,242). Richard said in a statement that he rejected the decision and intends to appeal.

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It's not yet clear who will take over from Richard, although reports have suggested that potential replacements include deputy CEO Ramon Fernandez and Fabienne Dulac, who heads up Orange's domestic business. The French state, which still owns a 23% stake in Orange, has also apparently expressed a wish for the roles of CEO and chairman to be split.

Richard has previously said he would like to remain chairman but would be prepared to let go of the CEO role following a separation of the two functions.

In good times, and bad

The court ruling has brought to an end the tenure of one of the telecom industry's more durable chief executives. After joining Orange in 2009, Richard became group CEO and chairman of the board of directors in March 2011 and has held onto those two roles ever since.

It is certainly going to be an emotional time for the group, as expressed by Richard in a farewell tweet, in which he thanked his colleagues for their "support and affection" and expressed the "deep gratitude and pride" he has felt as their captain over the past 11 years – in both good times and bad.

The board acknowledged Richard's "commitment at the helm of Orange," pointing to his efforts in restoring a peaceful working environment after the tumultuous period following the rebranding of France Telecom to Orange, and the "transformation of Orange into a leading multi-service operator in Europe and Africa."

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— Anne Morris, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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