A French court on Tuesday found the French subsidiary of Swedish furniture seller Ikea guilty of setting up an elaborate system to illegally spy on hundreds of employees and job applicants between 2009 and 2012. The company's French unit was fined one million euros and one of its former managers was handed a suspended two-year prison sentence.
Prosecutors had asked for a fine of two million euros, and a three-year prison sentence for the company's former chief executive, Jean-Louis Baillot.
Baillot denied any wrongdoing, pinning the blame on the group's former head of risk management, Jean-Francois Paris, who has admitted sending lists of names of people "to be tested" to a private security firm, Eirpace.
Fifteen people were charged in the case alongside Ikea France, including former store managers, police officials and the head of Eirpace.
Practically all the accused refused any responsibility for the illicit surveillance during a two-week trial in March in the Paris suburb of Versailles.
But state prosecutor Pamela Tabardel said some 400 people had been illegally targeted by a programme of "mass surveillance," and urged judges to send a "strong message" on the threat of illegal spying by employers.
"What's at stake is the protection of our private lives against the threat of mass surveillance," she said at the trial proceedings in March.
The officials were accused of breaching professional secrecy and the illegal dissemination of private data, including illicit access to police files.
Tough on Ikea's global reputation
Journalists uncovered the surveillance scheme in 2012 and magistrates began investigating after the Force Ouvrière trade union lodged a legal complaint.
The trial focused on alleged spying between 2009 and 2012, but prosecutors say the system was set up nearly a decade earlier.
Jean-Francois Paris was accused of routinely requesting personal information from private investigators, whose combined annual bill ran to 600,000 euros, according to court documents.
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, who prosecutors say obtained data from the police database STIC with the help of four officers also on trial.
Before the verdict was announced, Emmanuel Daoud, a lawyer for Ikea France, rejected the spying accusations, but acknowledged that the case had revealed "organisational weaknesses".
He said the company had since implemented an action plan, including a complete revamp of hiring procedures.
"The company has already been punished very severely in terms of its reputation," he said ahead of the trial.