Orange retains boss charged in scandal linked to IMF chief

The board of French telecom operator Orange on Monday voted to retain Stephane Richard as company boss after he was charged in a corruption probe linked to IMF chief Christine Lagarde when she was French finance minister.

The board meeting came just hours after President Francois Hollande said in a television interview that he had instructed the three state members on the board to vote for Richard staying on at the helm of the company.

A statement said the board reaffirmed its "confidence in Stephane Richard so that he can continue to work with the same energy to confront the numerous challenges Orange faces and to protect the interests of the company, its workers, clients and shareholders."

The French state is a major shareholder in Orange, which was formerly France Telecom.

Richard was Lagarde's chief of staff when, in 2008, she sanctioned a state payout of 400 million euros ($515m) to disgraced tycoon Bernard Tapie.

Lagarde is suspected of having rigged the process that led to the payout, thus ensuring that Tapie would get the cash in return for supporting her boss, Nicolas Sarkozy, in his successful 2007 presidential election campaign.

The IMF chief was questioned for two days in May about her role in the affair. She was not placed under formal investigation -- the French equivalent of being charged in other legal systems -- but she remains what is termed an "assisted witness", which means judges can summon her for further interrogation at any time.

The cash payout to Tapie, who served a prison sentence for match-fixing during his time as the president of France's biggest football club, Olympique Marseille, related to a dispute between the businessman and partly state-owned bank Credit Lyonnais over his 1993 sale of sports group Adidas.

Tapie claimed that Credit Lyonnais had defrauded him by intentionally undervaluing Adidas at the time of the sale and that the state, as the bank's principal shareholder, should compensate him.

Lagarde was responsible for referring the issue to a three-man arbitration panel, which ruled in Tapie's favour.