(Corrects second and fourth paragraphs to make clear Perol was
not directly nominated by Sarkozy)
PARIS Feb 6 The chairman of BPCE, France's
second-biggest retail bank, was put under judicial investigation
to determine if his nomination to head the group in 2009
represented a conflict of interest, a legal source told Reuters
Francois Perol - an ex-civil servant who was parachuted in
to head the bank under the Nicolas Sarkozy administration - had
previously worked at investment company Rothschild & Cie, which
played a key role in the state-backed merger that created BPCE.
Perol, 50, appeared in a closed Paris courtroom on Thursday
to answer questions from an investigative magistrate. BPCE
declined to comment immediately on the hearing.
The appointment of Perol, who was Sarkozy's economic adviser
at the time, to head the newly merged regional banks Caisse
d'Epargne/Banque Populaire (BPCE) aimed to prevent its Natixis
investment bank unit from collapsing during the
The appointment has been criticised by left-wing and some
right-wing politicians in France, who argue that Sarkozy might
have wielded too much influence over the bank.
They have also cited a possible conflict of interest given
that Rothschild & Cie, Perol's employer at the time, worked on
the BPCE merger.
Two trade unions had pushed for the investigation.
"All I can say is that since Perol is there, BPCE is going
well," Laurent Mignon, CEO at Natixis told Reuters in a January
interview. "We have seen a turnaround in Natixis these last four
Conflict of interest is punishable by five years'
imprisonment and 500,000 euros ($680,000) fine. French law
prohibits public servants being hired by companies over which
they have direct authority.
Being placed under formal judicial investigation in France
means that "serious or consistent evidence" exists pointing to
probable implication of a suspect in a crime.
It often leads to trial, but not always, and does not mean
those put under investigation have to step down immediately from
($1 = 0.7353 euros)
(Reporting by Gerard Bon and Maya Nikolaeva; Writing by
Alexandria Sage; Editing by Tom Heneghan)