August 13, 2022

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INVESTIGATION. Hidden microphones and dirty tricks: behind the scenes of the LVMH takeover

They are three: a lawyer, a driver-bodyguard, and a specialist in security issues. Three witnesses to the fierce battle waged by Bernard Arnault in 1989 and 1990 to take control of the LVMH group, at the expense of businessman Henry Racamier. Three men who confide today in the investigation cell of Radio France.

With wrinkled eyes and a perfectly fitted suit, Jean-Pierre Martel is a connoisseur behind the scenes of the business world. The man notably made himself known within the framework of the Tapie-Crédit Lyonnais affair where he represented the interests of the Consortium of realization, the structure responsible for managing the liabilities of the bank. At the end of the 1980s, he also defended the CEO of Louis Vuitton, Henry Racamier, in an attempt to counter the young Bernard Arnault, who then wanted to take a stake in LVMH (Louis Vuitton – Moët Hennessy) to take control of it.

>> Blackmailer, intelligence agents, telephone tapping: the secrets of the “LVMH operation”

“At the time, Bernard Arnault was an ambitious young polytechnician who wanted to establish himself in the luxury industry when he came from real estateexplains journalist Aurore Gorius, co-author of the book The com gurus: Thirty years of political and economic manipulation. Henry Racamier is a businessman from the steel industry, heavy industry. But his wife is one of Louis Vuitton’s great granddaughters. He will make Louis Vuitton a leader in luxury leather goods in ten years, opening boutiques all over the world.”

“This case was significant because it imported access to information techniques that were common in the United States, but not yet in France.explains the former lawyer of Henry Racamier, Jean-Pierre Martel. In a war, information is absolutely key. We do not fight for 18 months around such issues with cap guns. New players have appeared for the first time in this field.” This is the case, for example, of the American economic intelligence firm Kroll, which set up one of its offices in Paris in 1989.

“This detective agency specializing in financial affairs will investigate Louis Vuitton’s money and will spread the rumor of tax evasion circuits set up by Louis Vuitton via a holding company in Hong Kong, explains Aurore Gorius. This holding company existed fine, but tax evasion has never been proven.” “A press campaign will also be orchestrated suggesting that Henry Racamier would be a financial support for the far right and Jean-Marie Le Pencontinues the journalist. Which has been denied. But the damage is done. The idea was really to destabilize and to lead a campaign on all fronts to let go of Henry Racamier, well beyond the economic field.

A heavy atmosphere then weighs on the team of Henry Racamier. “We were convinced that precautions had to be taken to secure internal exchanges within the Vuitton team.remembers Jean-Pierre Martel. I corresponded with my client [Henry Racamier] with an encrypted phone line. We never met in rooms that overlooked the street for fear of possible directional microphones. We felt some pressure. Weird people were hanging around my office late at night and following me to my car.”

This fear of being spied on does not seem to be simple paranoia, according to two former security officials of Henry Racamier. The first is called Jean-Claude Blouin, this specialist in close protection has long been the driver and confidant of Henry Racamier. Rather of the silent type, the man agreed to deliver his memories of the time. “Two or three times, I was followed by cars wanting to know Henry Racamier’s appointments”he says.

“Suddenly, I became suspicious: I never took the same route, and I went through a red light. As we had doubts, we brought a ‘dusting’ team to Mr. Racamier’s office, that’s that is to say specialists with devices to check the presence or not of the microphones. Result: there were two of them: a microphone hidden under the desk and another inside a lamp. It was really l ‘spying !”

Another man in charge of security issues at the time, Daniel Rémy, made the same observation, after calling on “outstanding technicians who, for the most part, were former service personnel” French. And for good reason: Daniel Rémy had worked with the former Commissioner of General Intelligence, Jean Caille, whose name appears in the Ben Barka affair. “Regularly, we collected ever more sophisticated microphones, in ever more unusual places, says Daniel Rémy. When I discussed with the general secretary of the Louis Vuitton group, we found ourselves in the service stairs or in the toilets to be sure to be completely quiet. There were obviously internal complicities allowing microphones to be installed at night or on weekends.”

Interviewed in 2014 on the show Further investigation on France 2, the vice-president of LVMH, Pierre Godé, denies having had Henry Racamier spied on, explaining that on the contrary he himself was the victim of wild tapping. Facing the camera, he claims to have found his home “a box (…) with two tape recorders that went off when the phone was picked up.” Asked whether it could come from the Vuitton clan at the time, Bernard Arnault’s trusted man, who died in February 2018, has this answer: “It’s not at all impossible.”

Again, difficult to know more. But Henry Racamier’s former security officials do not deny having been aware of surveillance targeting Bernard Arnault’s entourage. “Mr. Racamier absolutely did not want to use these thuggish methods, but I recognize that it was done without his knowledge”confesses Jean-Claude Blouin. “I am convinced that there could indeed have been the implantation of microphones at the opposing party, that is to say at Bernard Arnault”affirms for his part Daniel Rémy, suggesting that there may also have been a double game of certain speakers. “Even if we have very confidential professions, we are in an environment where everyone knows and speaks. Everyone knows pretty much who intervened with whom…”