VERSAILLES, France (Reuters) - A French appeals court on Wednesday threw out a 1.5 million euro ($2 million) fine against energy giant EDF, overturning a lower court’s ruling that the company had been complicit in hacking the computers of Greenpeace in 2006.
EDF had appealed against the November 2011 decision by the Nanterre criminal court that a company it hired had hacked into confidential information on the computer of Yannick Jadot, then campaign director for the environmental group and now a Greens member of the European Parliament.
“EDF is completely satisfied by this decision,” said EDF lawyer Alexis Gublin. “EDF was always a victim in this affair.”
A judicial investigation into questionable surveillance practices had found that the 84-percent state-owned EDF hired a consulting agency, Kargus, in 2004 to carry out “strategic surveillance” of anti-nuclear activists. EDF argued that Kargus had gone too far without its consent.
Following the decision of the Versailles appeals court, Greenpeace said it would ask prosecutors to launch a further appeal.
“In France, the nuclear industry do what they want, the law doesn’t apply to them,” Greenpeace said in a statement.
Jadot said the ruling sent a “terrible signal at a time when we’re trying to make companies a bit more ethical”.
Alain Quiros, the man who hacked into Jadot’s computer, received a six-month prison sentence in November.
On Wednesday, the appeals court upheld a short jail sentence for an EDF executive involved in the affair, but threw out the sentence of another.
The court also rejected the lower court’s ruling that EDF must pay Greenpeace damages of 500,000 euros ($675,000).
The EDF case arose out of an investigation to determine whether the U.S. cyclist Floyd Landis had ordered a private security firm to hack the computers of the French anti-doping agency, which had accused him of using performance-enhancing drugs.
While looking at the computer of the suspected hacker in that case, authorities stumbled upon evidence of Greenpeace computers being accessed illegally.
Landis was stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title after a positive drug test. The November ruling that found against EDF also found Landis guilty, along with his former trainer Arnie Baker, of using documents hacked from the National Laboratory of Doping Screening (LNDD) to try to contest his test results.
Wednesday’s ruling did not apply to Landis, who had not appealed and is being sought by France along with Baker under an international arrest warrant for failing to obey a summons.
Writing By Alexandria Sage; Editing by Kevin Liffey