PARIS: France’s former domestic spy chief Bernard Squarcini will face trial in Paris on suspicion of influence peddling, largely for luxury giant LVMH, sources close to the case told AFP Tuesday.

As well as the charge that he used his connections to benefit private interests, Squarcini will be tried for misuse of public funds and compromising national security secrets, judges decided according to a court document seen by AFP.

Ten more people will stand trial, including a former judge, a prefect (senior civil servant) and several former high-ranking police officers and consultants accused of acceding to Squarcini’s demands.

The probe into the ties between Squarcini, now aged 67, and LVMH has been going on for 12 years.

A former head of the DCRI -- now the DGSI domestic intelligence agency -- he was charged in 2016 and the investigation broadened in 2021.

Lawyers for Squarcini were not immediately available for comment.

The judges wrote that “the argument of the defence, in insisting that protecting (LVMH chief) Bernard Arnault’s purely private interests equals protecting (France’s) economic wealth is a clear error of analysis”.

They argue that the DCRI -- members of which responded to Squarcini’s requests -- “should not have intervened in this context”.

His actions had “harmed” the agency and “more broadly, the French state,“ the judges added.

“This trial will be emblematic of the deviation from their mission by senior civil servants -- first among them Bernard Squarcini -- in their own completely personal interest and at the cost of harm to the state’s credibility,“ said lawyers William Bourdon and Vincent Brengarth, representing a police officer, Franck Alioui, who has joined the case as a plaintiff.

One incident focused on by the investigation was a 2008 DCRI effort to identify the culprit in an attempted blackmailing of billionaire LVMH boss Arnault, one of the world’s wealthiest men.

Squarcini is also accused of spying on Francois Ruffin, now an MP for hard-left France Unbowed, when he was making a satirical documentary about Arnault.

In 2021, LVMH itself paid a fine of 10 million euros ($10.7 million today) to avoid prosecution for influence peddling. -AFP

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