His term as head of the group initially came to an end in mid-2022.

His departure "will be effective from the establishment of new governance and no later than January 31, 2022," said the company, adding that Mr. Richard continued to exercise his functions until this departure.

If he had formulated the "personal wish" to remain chairman of the group at the end of his third term, by relinquishing the function of managing director, his ambition was shattered by his conviction by the Paris Court of Appeal to one year suspended prison sentence and a 50,000 euro fine.

In 2018, the Minister of the Economy, Bruno Le Maire, warned that in the event of conviction, Stéphane Richard would have to hand over his mandate, while the French telecoms giant has the State as its main shareholder, with more than 20% of capital.

"For all public companies that are under my responsibility as Minister of the Economy, the rules of the game must be clear: if the leader is condemned, the leader leaves immediately," Le Maire said. .

After a general acquittal in July 2019, the court of appeal ruled on Wednesday that the arbitration, which had awarded 403 million euros to Bernard Tapie and has since been canceled in civil proceedings, was indeed "fraudulent" in that it was biased towards the interests of the businessman.

Stéphane Richard, 60, who was at the time chief of staff to the Minister of the Economy Christine Lagarde, was found guilty of complicity in the misappropriation of public property.

"The accusations of complicity in the embezzlement of public funds are without any foundation and are not based on any evidence. I totally reject them and will appeal to the Supreme Court," he announced.

Stéphane Richard, a graduate of HEC and ENA, joined the Orange group in September 2009. He became CEO in June 2010, and finally CEO in February 2011.

Present in 26 countries around the world, the Orange group, which employs more than 140,000 people, including more than 80,000 in France, achieved a turnover of 42.27 billion euros in 2020.

© 2021 AFP