(Adds ruling on EDF motion in fifth paragraph.)
Oct. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Electricite de France SA and two former security officials go on trial over “cloak-and-dagger” charges that the company hired a hacker and private investigator to spy on Greenpeace International’s French operations.
EDF, Europe’s biggest power producer, sought the men’s help to monitor activists in 2006 as Greenpeace challenged plans in the U.K. to expand nuclear operations. EDF and the other men are charged by prosecutors with receiving information gained from hacking at the trial, which is scheduled to start today in Nanterre, near Paris.
EDF and the environmental group Greenpeace have fought for years over France’s power production, more than three-quarters of which is nuclear. Safety has become a greater issue in France in the aftermath of Japan’s Fukushima atomic disaster. Opposition politicians are urging the government to reconsider rules for nuclear stress tests carried out before next year’s presidential elections.
“Nuclear technology provokes this sort of cloak-and-dagger behavior,” said Pascal Husting, executive director of Greenpeace France.
Judge Isabelle Prevost-Deprez today denied EDF’s request to suspend the trial to allow a higher court to review whether French law is being retroactively applied to the company in the case. Prevost-Deprez said the issue wasn’t applicable.
EDF said during the investigation that it was the victim of overzealous efforts to find out what Greenpeace was doing and the company was unaware anyone would hack into the computer of Greenpeace’s director.
EDF referred calls on the trial to its lawyer, Alexis Gublin, who declined to comment ahead of the trial. The company faces fines of as much as 375,000 euros ($520,000).
Ex-Secret Service Agents
Husting said that Greenpeace’s goal in the trial is “to prove nuclear technology and democracy don’t go together.”
EDF’s image outside France as “worthy of the confidence of political and economic decision-makers” doesn’t correspond with its “use of ex-secret service agents” for its French security operations, he said.
The controversy will have little effect outside France, said Per Lekander, an analyst with UBS AG in London.
The spying scandal “is a highly French situation,” Lekander said. Greenpeace’s criticisms are unlikely to “have any impact” on EDF’s image outside France.
Greenpeace, which has victim status to request damages at the trial, is seeking 8.3 million euros from EDF and the two officials. Both men have been transferred internally away from security work since the investigation began. Greenpeace will also ask for 168,000 euros from the outside investigator EDF hired for the surveillance, the value of the contract, Husting said.
--Editor: Anthony Aarons, Stephen Cunningham
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