Versailles (AFP)

Ikea's French subsidiary and one of its former CEOs were respectively sentenced Tuesday to a million euros fine and suspended prison sentence for spying on hundreds of employees for several years.

The Versailles Criminal Court found them guilty of "concealing personal data by fraudulent means", but sentenced them to less severe penalties than those requested by the prosecutor, who accused them of "mass surveillance".

The prosecution had asked for a fine of two million euros for the sign, as well as firm imprisonment for one of the former CEO, Jean-Louis Baillot.

Throughout the trial, which lasted two weeks in March, Mr. Baillot, CEO from 1996 to 2002, had denied en bloc having ordered the surveillance of employees.

On Tuesday, he was sentenced to two years' suspended imprisonment and a fine of 50,000 euros.

He was also acquitted of several charges, such as the offense of concealment of complicity in misappropriation of purpose of personal information or concealment of violation of professional secrecy.

"Mr. Baillot is in shock, we are considering an appeal," his lawyer François Saint-Pierre told AFP after the hearing.

The successor of Mr. Baillot, Stefan Vanoverbeke, CEO of Ikea France from 2010 to 2015, was released, as requested by the prosecutor because there was no "material element" against him.

Revealed by the press and then investigated from 2012, the case has brought to light, according to the prosecution, "a system of surveillance" of employees and customers.

Ikea France and its leaders at the time were accused of having illegally inquired about their criminal record, their lifestyle or their heritage via a company "in business consulting" Eirpace, which would have drawn this confidential data from files of police.

At the heart of this "system", Jean-François Paris, the former "Mr. Security" of Ikea France from 2002 to 2012, who recognized at the helm "mass checks" of employees.

He was sentenced to 18 months suspended imprisonment and a 10,000 euro fine.

For the prosecutor, the deliberation had to send a "strong message" to all commercial companies, by emphasizing "the protection of our private lives" in the face of "mass surveillance".

Ingka Group, which includes around 90% of Ikea franchised stores in the world, assured to take "very seriously the data protection of employees and customers," said a spokesperson in a written statement to AFP.

"We will now review the court ruling in detail and determine if and where further action is needed," Ingka Group added.

© 2021 AFP