VERSAILLES, France (AFP) — Prosecutors on Tuesday asked for the French branch of Ikea to be fined 2 million euros ($2.35 million) for allegedly spying on hundreds of its employees, at a trial involving several former senior executives.
The prosecutors also called for a prison term for a former CEO for his role in the alleged elaborate system run by the Swedish flatpack furniture giant’s French subsidiary to illegally keep tabs on staff and job applicants using private detectives and police officers.
The requested fine is just over half the maximum sum allowed under French law and represents a fraction of the group’s annual profits, which totaled 1.5 billion euros ($1.8 billion) last year.
Ikea France is being prosecuted as a corporate entity along with several of its former executives in Versailles, southwest of Paris.
The charges include illegally gathering personal information, receiving illegally gathered personal information, and violating professional confidentiality, some of which carry a maximum prison term of 10 years.
Prosecutors say Ikea France collected details on hundreds of existing and prospective staff, including confidential information about criminal records.
Prosecutor Pamela Tabardel on Tuesday told a masked audience in the packed courtroom: “Even if you do nothing, you are watched,” quoting former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden who revealed mass digital spying by US agencies.
“What’s at stake here is the protection of our private lives against a threat, the threat of mass surveillance,” she said.
Ikea arrived in France with the image of a company with humanist values driven by the “desire to bring comfort to homes for a lower price,” Tabardel said, adding she believed the retailing giant had disappointed the public which she said explained the media’s keen interest in the case.
The court is investigating Ikea’s practices between 2009 and 2012, but prosecutors say they started nearly a decade earlier.
Last week, the former chief executive of Ikea’s French operations, Jean-Louis Baillot, denied any role in the alleged scheme.
But the prosecutor asked the court to hand him a three-year prison sentence of which she said he should serve one, saying she had trouble believing his claim that he signed off on invoices without checking what they were for.
According to court documents seen by AFP, the combined annual bill of private investigators could run up to 600,000 euros.
The prosecutor recommended that two other top Ikea managers, former CEO Stefan Vanoverbeke and former human resources director Claire Hery, be acquitted for lack of proof.
“The evidence is insufficient, but we are not fooled,” Tabardel said.
Founded in 1943, Swedish multinational Ikea is famous for its ready-to-assemble furniture, kitchen appliances and home accessories which are sold in around 400 stores worldwide.
© Agence France-Presse