Solidarity fund, partial unemployment scheme … the aid put in place by the government since the start of the health crisis has cost public finances dearly – especially since it has been misappropriated by all kinds of fraudsters. This excerpt from “Further investigation” focuses on another measure, much more discreet, which has upset the rules of the game. It was decided by the Council of Ministers in May 2020.
It’s called the “Covid Ordinance”, and it’s a small revolution. It allows bosses in bankruptcy to buy their company by writing off their debts – if their difficulties are a consequence of the epidemic, and on condition of maintaining jobs. Would some have taken the opportunity to make people forget their mismanagement?
In the south of France, in Montpellier, one of the first business leaders to have benefited from this order has concentrated many criticisms. Pierre Mestre is the CEO of Orchestra, a chain of stores specializing in childcare and children’s clothing. In 2020, his company, which was one of the leaders in its sector, found itself in receivership.
“The Covid, for him, it’s an improvement” (a union official)
Faced with another takeover candidate, a Saudi group, Pierre Mestre wins – thanks to the Covid order, which draws a line on 650 million euros in debt. This is the amount withheld by the court, and contested by the CEO. When it announces the closure of 50 stores in France and the dismissal of 300 employees, the unions are furious. Suppliers too.
“Further investigation” obtained a document from the commercial court: a list of 2,000 creditors (public treasury, textile factories, SMEs, banks …) who, for the most part, will never be paid. Thus, the digital marketing agency that worked for Orchestra had to give up 1.7 million euros, and found itself forced to lay off ten employees, according to its manager.
Like “a reckless driver who would be given the keys to a new car” (a supplier)
Ulcerated to be “taken by boat”, the director of the agency challenged the court decision which allowed Pierre Mestre to buy his company, but without success. “I wished that, from an ethical standpoint, it would not be the one who is the troublemaker who leaves without having to pay a price for all that…”, he explains to journalists.
“In fact, concludes Grégory Pascal with bitterness, it is the story of drivers who drive at full speed on the highway, for months, without insurance, who injure thousands of people on the road, that one day we stop … And that day, because there is the Covid order, we tell them: ‘All the people who are injured, it does not matter, they will get away with it, and then you, here are the keys to a new car, because you have a little dented yours by hurting everyone around. Thanks, how much do you owe us? Zero ‘… since Mr. Mestre took back his 15 million euros box, and leaving 700 million euros in debt aside. ”
Excerpt from “Whatever it costs? Investigation of the Covid crooks”, a document to be seen in “Further investigation” on April 8, 2021.
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