Finance minister may 'punish' firm he once ran

25th August 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Aug 25 (AFP) - Finance Minister Thierry Breton said Thursday that if evidence backs up allegations of a price-fixing deal among France's three dominant mobile telecommunications operators, it would have to be punished.

PARIS, Aug 25 (AFP) - Finance Minister Thierry Breton said Thursday that if evidence backs up allegations of a price-fixing deal among France's three dominant mobile telecommunications operators, it would have to be punished.

Investigative weekly Le Canard Enchainé reported Wednesday that investigators had found evidence of regular meetings between officials of Orange, SFR and Bouygues Telecom to share confidential pricing and market information between 1997 and 2003.

"If there was an agreement, it must be punished, if there was nothing, it must be said," Breton told the state-owned news radio station France Info.

Before becoming finance minister, Breton was chief executive at France Télécom, the state-controlled parent company of Orange.

Le Canard said that shortly after becoming chief executive of France Telecom in 2002, Breton attended a board meeting where a market-sharing agreement was discussed.

But Breton told France Info that investigations by the DGCCRF, a body that investigates allegations of fraud and competition abuse, was focusing on the period before he took over at the telecoms group.

The newspaper report said investigators had found evidence of regular meetings between officials of Orange, SFR and Bouygues Telecom to share confidential pricing and market information between 1997 and 2003.

All three operators have refuted the charges.

SFR is owned by Vivendi Universal and Vodafone, while the French construction group Bouygues owns Bouygues Telecom.

The DGCCRF has declined to comment on the case.

France's competition authority has notified the three operators of its inquiry, and is expected to rule on the matter by the end of this year, Le Canard said.

The issue has already caused tension within the ruling conservative coalition, with an advisor to interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy saying Breton was faced with the question of conflict of interests.

Patrick Devedjian acknowledged that the allegations concerned a period when Breton was not running France Telecom, but told the daily Le Figaro: "Morally, he would be in a position of conflict of interests, having remained friends with people who work at France Telecom."

The finance minister, however, noted on France Info that his ministry was not charged with judging possible infractions, and that "therefore there is no ambiguity of any kind."

Meanwhile, the consumer protection group UFC-Que Choisir said it might press for mobile telephone subscribers to obtain compensation if an illegal accord is confirmed.

In early trades on the Paris stock exchange, France Telecom shares had fallen by 1.44 percent to 24.57 euros, Vivendi was down 1.36 percent at 25.30 and Bouygues had shed 0.63 percent to to 36.09.

The CAC 40 index of leading shares was off by 0.94 percent at 4,382.91 points.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news, telecoms, price-fixing, mobile phones, Orange, SFR, Bouygues, Thierry Breton, Canard Enchainé, DGCCRF, UFC-Que Choisir

 

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