Inquiry into favouritism at tech event starring Emmanuel Macron

French minister Muriel Pénicaud under fire as judges investigate Business France’s tender process for lavish Las Vegas soirée

A formal investigation has been opened into possible favouritism in the organisation of a Las Vegas technology event where Emmanuel Macron was the star speaker.

Judges are to investigate whether Business France, a state body that promotes the country’s business interests abroad, failed to hold a proper public tender process when it appointed the company Havas to organise the glitzy event in 2016, which was designed to promote French technology startups.

Macron attended the “French Tech Night” event at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show in January last year when he was still France’s economy minister. He was the star speaker at the lavish evening gathering that brought together 500 people in a top hotel. Months later, Macron quit his ministerial post and announced he would run for president. He won the presidential election in May.

When allegations of an incorrect tender process for the event surfaced in the press earlier this year, the then Socialist economy minister, Michel Sapin, said Macron himself was exempt of any suspicion. “This is a dysfunction of Business France ... This does not concern Emmanuel Macron, his staff or the ministry,” Sapin said.

The favouritism investigation does not name a suspected perpetrator at this stage, leaving it to investigators to decide later who, if anyone, might be at fault.

But Macron’s newly appointed labour minister, Muriel Pénicaud, was head of Business France at the time of the event. She could now come under pressure just at the crucial moment when she is tasked with spearheading Macron’s manifesto pledge to loosen French labour laws.

Several of Macron’s economy ministry colleagues previously worked at Havas, the company hired to run the conference.

Earlier this year, Business France issued a statement recognising the “potential irregularity” in the event that was organised at short notice.

The French daily Libération reported this week that an audit had shown there was “no purchase order, no signed contract, no bill” connected with the event.

Libération said Pénicaud was also suspected of having provided a truncated overview of the audit to Business France’s board of directors.

Investigators searched the offices of Havas and Business France on 20 June, discovering an email that suggested Pénicaud had been “briefed” ahead of time that the event could raise red flags, AFP reported.

Pénicaud has denied any wrongdoing. She has acknowledged a potential “procedural error” in the attribution process but has insisted she launched an internal and external audit and addressed the issue.

The government spokesman, Christophe Castaner, reiterated this week that a minister would only have to leave government if they were placed under formal investigation.

Pénicaud has not been placed under formal investigation.


Angelique Chrisafis in Paris

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