Areva confirms private investigator was hired

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A senior director at Areva, France’s state-owned nuclear champion, has confirmed that he did hire a Swiss intelligence firm to examine its disastrous €1.8bn purchase of a uranium miner but denied that it was part of a plot against Anne Lauvergeon, the company’s former chief executive.

Ms Lauvergeon, known as “Atomic Anne” after 10 years at the helm of one of the world’s leading nuclear manufacturers, shocked the French business and political elite this week when she accused her former employers of spying on her and claimed that she had been victim to a long-running “plot” to destabilise her, directed from the “highest levels of the state”.

Sébastien de Montessus, head of Areva’s mining activities, said on Friday that he had indeed hired a Swiss private investigator, Alp Services, to look into the 2007 purchase of Uramin without telling Ms Lauvergeon, his boss at the time.

In an interview with Le Figaro newspaper he insisted that he instigated the probe last year to examine the deal, not to investigate Ms Lauvergeon personally, and that he had not sanctioned “spying” activities, such as wire-tapping her husband’s phones, against his boss.

Ms Lauvergeon and her husband have launched legal action in Paris over alleged illegal activities by the investigators, including claims of phone-tapping and accessing private documents. Mr de Montessus said that he stopped working with Alp Services in September once concerns were raised.

Ms Lauvergeon, one of France’s only senior businesswomen, was ousted last year by Nicolas Sarkozy, the country’s president. This followed a bitter tussle over leadership of the industry between herself and Henri Proglio, chief executive of EDF, France’s nuclear energy supplier, and a friend of Mr Sarkozy.

The French government hoped Ms Lauvergeon’s replacement by Luc Oursel, her deputy, would bring an end to the controversy at the top of the industry.

However, Mr Oursel’s decision last month to take a €1.5bn writedown on Uramin, bought during a bubble in uranium prices, has thrown the spotlight back on his former boss. Mr Oursel suspended a €1.5m severance package for Ms Lauvergeon while an internal probe of the deal is carried out.

Ms Lauvergeon has hit back, saying that the deal was signed off by all directors, including Mr Oursel, and Mr Sarkozy’s government. The Swiss probe found no evidence of wrongdoing in the Uramin deal.

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