Alcatel chief charged with forgery: Top industrialists appear to be new targets of French examining magistrates

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The Independent Online
PIERRE SUARD, the chief executive of France's Alcatel-Alsthom, has been charged with forgery and misuse of funds after a 12-hour interrogation coinciding with police searches of his home.

Mr Suard was accused of underpaying for work done at his home on a security system and charging it to the giant electronics and railway stock company, which makes the TGV high- speed trains. Mr Suard said he ordered the work because the government asked all leading industrialists to strengthen security at their homes.

In another affair, Alcatel has been accused of overcharging the state for telephone equipment.

Mr Suard was charged at Evry, south of Paris, on Monday evening by an examining magistrate, who chose to use the harsh procedure of placing the industrialist in formal detention while police carried out searches to examine the offending security work.

Just over a month ago, Didier Pineau-Valencienne, the chairman of Schneider, was jailed for several days by a Belgian judge in an affair said to be linked to involvement in money- laundering by a Schneider subsidiary.

Although neither the Pineau- Valencienne nor the Suard affair has any of the excitement of the politico- financial slapstick surrounding Bernard Tapie, the businessman and politician who was woken by police at 6am last Wednesday for charging over the tax status of his yacht, their legal tangles have heightened speculation that France's hyperactive juges d'instruction, examining magistrates, now have France's business world in their sights.

After a campaign against corruption in the political world that has hit politicians high and low across the spectrum, top industrialists now seem the target.

Reflecting fears of a vendetta, Gerard Longuet, the conservative Industry Minister, himself under investigation by a magistrate for his personal business affairs, expressed concern that the French business world would suffer.

Speaking during an official visit to Peking, Mr Longuet said the searches of Mr Suard's home were 'childish'. The French firms' 'competitors will not fail to use the ambiguities of the procedures to their own ends', he said.

Mr Suard, meanwhile, said he had asked the Commission des Operations de Bourse to investigate a drop in the group's shares on Monday. He said the fall had been unjustified.