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French publisher Lagardere's CEO quits executive roles due to indictment

By Sudip Kar-Gupta

PARIS (Reuters) -Arnaud Lagardere, the chairman and CEO of French publishing group Lagardere SA, has resigned from his executive roles as a result of an indictment against which he will appeal, the company said on Tuesday.

The indictment made by French prosecutors on Monday accused Arnaud Lagardere of misappropriating company funds for his own personal expenses. The 63-year-old executive denied all the allegations it contained, Lagardere SA group said in a statement.

In a second statement issued on Tuesday evening Lagardere said its board of directors had picked Jean-Christophe Thiery to temporarily replace Arnaud Lagardere as chairman and CEO.

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Thiery has been chairman of the supervisory board of Groupe Canal+ since 2018, a position he will retain.

A judicial source said the indictment was also made on counts of dissemination of false or misleading information, vote buying and non-filing of accounts.

"In the context of his indictment, Arnaud Lagardere has been provisionally banned from holding executive office, a measure which he is contesting and against which he intends to appeal, but which nevertheless will oblige him to resign his executive offices within the group," Lagardere SA said in its statement.

The indictment essentially concerned facts relating to personal companies wholly owned by Arnaud Lagardere and not involving any Lagardere group companies, it added.

Lagardere SA's businesses include Europe 1 radio, Relay stores that are ubiquitous in France's train stations and airports, and several major book publishing houses.

During the 1980s, Arnaud Lagardere's late father Jean-Luc built up the company into a conglomerate spanning media and defence activities.

Arnaud Lagardere sold off parts of the conglomerate bit by bit, and it now focuses on publishing and duty free shops.

In 2020 he brought in investors including Vivendi and luxury goods tycoon Bernard Arnault to try to fend off an activist campaign by Amber Capital. Media giant Vivendi ended up buying a 59.7% stake in Lagardere SA.

The judicial source said the investigation against Arnaud Lagardere, launched in 2021, followed a complaint by Amber Capital, as well as reports by France's Financial Markets Authority and an official audit office.

Amber Capital, whose stake was bought by Vivendi, had long been at odds with Arnaud Lagardere over his management of the company.

(Writing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Ingrid Melander; Editing by Kirsten Donovan, Susan Fenton, Jan Harvey and Jonathan Oatis)