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Call for prison sentence as IKEA France accused of spying on employees

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By Euronews with AFP, AP
IKEA France is in the dock over alleged spying on employees and customers
IKEA France is in the dock over alleged spying on employees and customers   -   Copyright  Remy de la Mauviniere/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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In an ongoing court case, a prosecutor has demanded IKEA France be fined some €2 million - and for a prison sentence for a former CEO - with the company accused of spying on hundreds of employees.

After five days of the sometimes stormy trial, the Versailles prosecutor's office demanded an “exemplary” sentence be passed down, to send a “strong message” to “all commercial companies”.

"The issue at stake in this trial is "the protection of our private lives in the face of a threat, that of mass surveillance", prosecutor Paméla Tabardel told the court.

Fifteen defendants took the stand during the case, including former Ikea France executives, shop managers, but also police officers and the head of a private investigation company.

The scandal was reported by trade unions to French authorities in 2012, who accused the French subsidiary of the Swedish furniture giant of collecting personal data by fraudulent means and the illicit disclosure of personal information.

The unions alleged that IKEA France paid to gain access to police files on targeted individuals, particularly union activists and some customers.

Four executives were fired and the company changed its internal policy after French prosecutors opened a criminal probe in 2012.

On Tuesday, the prosecutor asked for the acquittal of two executives: the former director of human resources Claire Héry, who was facing up to ten years in prison.

"The evidence is insufficient, but we are not fooled," the prosecutor commented.

The other was Stefan Vanoverbeke, CEO from 2010 to 2015.

She asked for three years' imprisonment - two suspended - for his predecessor, the former Chairman and CEO Jean-Louis Baillot.

"I want a sentence that will mark the life of Jean-Louis Baillot", explained the prosecutor, stating that the "policy initiated" by the former manager had affected the lives of at least 400 employees who were the subject of "private investigations".

The defendants are appearing for acts committed between 2009 and 2012, even though the illegal practices date back to the early 2000s, according to the prosecutor, who regretted that only three years had been retained in this case due to the statute of limitations.

Since 22 March, the Versailles court has been trying to trace the thread of this vast so-called espionage affair.

Only one of the managers, former director of risk management Jean-François Paris, has admitted to the court of "mass controls" of employees.

The prosecutor asked for a year's imprisonment for him, two suspended.

"We can praise (today) his effort to be honest and transparent...but he is not a whistleblower", said the prosecutor.

In court, Paris said he had followed an instruction given in 2007 by former CEO Jean-Louis Baillot, a statement Baillot contested.

The trial continues.