Thu, Nov 21, 2013 - Page 15 News List

IKEA France execs charged in spying scandal: source

AFP, VERSAILLES, France

Three executives at IKEA France, including the chief executive officer, were charged on Tuesday in connection with allegations the company illegally used police files to spy on staff and customers, a judicial source said.

IKEA France’s chief executive officer Stefan Vanoverbeke, chief financial officer Dariusz Rychert and the company’s former CEO, Jean-Louis Baillot, were charged with “complicity to collect personal data” and “complicity to violate professional secrecy,” the source said.

All three were formally held for questioning by police in Versailles, near Paris, on Monday.

The charges follow police seizures at IKEA France’s headquarters in the Paris suburbs earlier this month.

An IKEA France spokeswoman for the Swedish furniture giant’s local subsidiary said the firm was aware of the latest developments.

“The company will continue to assist the establishment of the truth,” she said.

Vanoverbeke’s lawyer said his client denied the charges.

“My client totally disputes his involvement in this matter. He’s calmly awaiting the next steps in the process,” attorney Alexis Gublin said.

IKEA France was itself on Tuesday charged as a legal entity and ordered to pay a deposit of 500,000 euros (US$670,000) to secure possible compensation for the civil parties in the case, according to the same judicial source.

Prosecutors launched a criminal probe in April last year following allegations that IKEA France paid for illegal access to secret police files to gain information about employees and clients, including about their court and police records and bank accounts.

Keen to repair its reputation, IKEA France subsequently fired four employees, launched an internal inquiry and established a code of conduct to avoid a repeat of the scandal.

Several people had already been charged in connection with the case, including IKEA France’s former risk management head Jean-Francois Paris.

Four civilian police employees have also been charged and are suspected of selling confidential police files to IKEA France.

Media reports have said sources were paid about 80 euros in each case to hand over files from the police STIC file system, which tracks millions of names and personal information about criminals, victims and even witnesses.

Reports alleged IKEA France requested information on its own employees, including union members, the owners of certain car registrations and names associated with a list of mobile phone numbers.

In one case, the company allegedly asked for personal information on a customer who was suing it for 4,000 euros.

The judicial probe in Versailles was opened after a complaint was filed by labor unions.

The company has 29 stores and 9,300 employees in France.

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