Police hold chairman of Alcatel Alsthom

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PIERRE Suard, chairman of Alcatel Alsthom, the French electrical engineering and telecommunications group, was arrested yesterday and held by police for questioning, writes Mary Fagan.

Alcatel Alsthom is a 50 per cent partner with Britain's GEC in GEC Alsthom, the power and rail venture building the engines for the Channel Tunnel Eurostar passenger trains.

Neither the police nor the French authorities would say why Mr Suard was detained. But there is speculation that it is linked to an investigation into the use of company funds to install a security system at his home in Neuilly in the Paris suburbs. Mr Suard is believed to have been held by the fraud squad at Versailles.

Mr Suard's arrest follows the detention in May of another leading French businessman, Didier Pineau-Valencienne, head of the Groupe Schneider conglomerate. His detention in Brussels for questioning for 12 days shocked the French business community and prompted messages of support from dozens of industrialists, financiers and politicians.

GEC said it could not comment on reports of Mr Suard's detention. The GEC Alsthom joint venture, which yesterday won a dollars 2.1bn South Korean contract to provide high-speed trains, has been in the spotlight because of delays in the start of Channel Tunnel passenger services, for which it blames rail authorities.