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Ikea France Found Guilty in Employee Spying Scandal

A French court ruled Tuesday that Ikea had set up an elaborate system to illegally spy on hundreds of employees and job applicants over several years, using private detectives as well as police sources.

The French unit of the Swedish furniture giant was fined one million euros ($1.2 million) while its former chief Jean-Louis Baillot was handed a suspended two-year prison term and ordered to pay 50,000 euros.

They were found guilty of "receiving personal data by fraudulent means," though the sentences were less severe than sought by prosecutors who accused them of illicitly carrying out "mass surveillance".

Baillot, who was chief from 1996 to 2002, denied any wrongdoing during the trial that began in March in the Paris suburb of Versailles.

He was "shocked" by the ruling and is weighing an appeal, his lawyer Francois Saint-Pierre told AFP.

The trial focussed on spying allegations that dated from 2009 to 2012, but prosecutors say the system was set up nearly a decade earlier under Baillot's watch.

Ikea's former head of risk management, Jean-Francois Paris, who was accused of being at the heart of the spying system, was handed a suspended 18-month prison term and a fine of 10,000 euros.

"Ikea takes the protection of co-worker and customer data very seriously," the company said after the ruling.

"Ikea Retail France has strongly condemned the practices, apologised and implemented a major action plan to prevent this from happening again," it added.

"We will now review the court's decision in detail and consider if and where any additional measures are necessary."

- Names 'to be tested' -

The scandal broke in 2012 when French media reports claimed Ikea's management had obtained private personal data on employees, including people active in labour unions or works councils.

In all 15 people were ordered to stand trial along with Ikea France, including former store managers, police officials and the head of a private security firm, and most were found guilty.

"What's at stake is the protection of our private lives against the threat of mass surveillance," state prosecutor Pamela Tabardel said during the trial, adding that some 400 employees were targeted by the programme.

Paris, the risk manager, admitted to sending lists of names of people "to be tested" to the security firm Eirpace, running up annual bills of up to 600,000 euros, according to court documents seen by AFP.

In one case, Paris wanted to know how an employee could afford to drive a brand-new BMW convertible, while in another he sought to know why an employee in Bordeaux had "suddenly become a protester".

Such messages usually went to Jean-Pierre Foures, the boss of Eirpace and a former French intelligence officer, who prosecutors say obtained data from the police database STIC with the help of four officers also on trial.

He was given a suspended two-year sentence and fined 20,000 euros, and three of the officers also got suspended sentences.

- Reputation hit -

Emmanuel Daoud, a lawyer for Ikea France, said ahead of the trial that "the company has already been punished very severely in terms of its reputation".

But he said Tuesday that the acquittals and a refusal to convict Ikea on more serious charges of concealment of misappropriation of personal information showed that "the court has taken Ikea France's efforts into account."

Some of the roughly 120 plaintiffs, however, who were awarded payouts from Ikea ranging from 1,000 to 10,000 euros each, said the penalties were too lenient.

"These amounts are not enough to force Ikea or other companies to change their behaviour," said Alexis Perrin, a lawyer for Ikea union members near Lyon in southeast France.

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