Secret agents keep French firm union-free

Saul Thomas stthomas at
Fri Jan 28 20:36:43 MST 2000

The Observer (UK)
Sunday    January   23, 2000

Drugs giant uses spies to vet 'lefties'
Secret agents keep French firm union-free

by Jon Henley, Paris

          A leading European pharmaceuticals company secretly employs a team
of former military intelligence agents to vet job applicants, including
Britons, and rejects any who do not meet its criteria for race, religion,
sexual orientation or political conviction.

Documents seen by  The Observer show that Servier, France's third-largest
drugs company and one of the top 10 in Europe, with annual sales of ?00
million, uses one-time operatives from the French secret services DST and
DGSE - equivalent to MI5 and MI6 - to weed out non-whites, gays, Jews and
anyone suspected of left-wing sympathies.

The group's policy, which contravenes civil liberties and employment
legislation in most of the 120-plus countries in which it operates, has
been so successful it is the only company of its size in France - where
6,000 of its 13,000 employees are based - to have no union representation.

According to a former military attach?who worked for Servier for nearly a
decade, the vetting system is run from the company's headquarters in the
Paris suburb of Neuilly by a woman who formerly worked at Arco, the French
government agency responsible for finding civilian jobs for retiring
servicemen. The confidential documents indicate that 32 operatives, most of
them former colonels, generals or admirals from the DGSE, DST or French
army, navy and air force intelligence services, are on Servier's books as
'consultants', handling between them 1,300 applications a year.

They are paid ?0,000-?0,000 each a year to travel the world, vetting
candidates from secretaries to chief researchers. The illegal vetting
operation is thought to cost the privately owned company ?0m a year. Every
applicant is asked to fill in an unusually detailed form stating the age,
sex, occupation and employer of their parents, children and siblings.

'That gives the investigators a good start,' said the  Observer source, a
retired army colonel recently fired   for questioning the company's
directives. 'If any of the brothers or sisters or parents are teachers, for
example, that could indicate leftist sympathies.'

One Frenchwoman was rejected for a job in the marketing department for the
reason, underlined in red on the company's Candidate Analysis Sheet, that
'her father was a production worker at Renault', the French carmaker known
at one stage for its militant workers. Another dossier seen by  The
Observer concerns a Polish woman turned down for a job as secretary at
Servier's Warsaw subsidiary because her father had served in the
chancellery of a former Polish President, and the daughter was thought
likely to be Communist.

Candidates are asked for    three professional and three personal or
character referees. These are questioned minutely but tactfully, with the
most important criterion being political belief. In another case seen by
The Observer, involving a Cambridge-educated Englishwoman applying to the
company's UK offices in Staines, Middlesex, for a post as chief doctor on
an international project, the investigator's verdict was favourable. 'The
candidate's political convictions are clearly conservative,' the conclusion
states. 'Elitist like her entourage, her style and opinions are
incompatible with socialism ... Her devotion to the company is assured.'

A German woman was given a resoundingly positive verdict with the comment
that 'her family's origins are military and aristocratic'.

Servier also discriminates on religious and racial grounds. The source, who
spent five years hiring the first 90 staff taken on at the company's
Russian subsidiary, said he was given 'clear instructions not to hire Jews,
and if possible only Russian Orthodox Christians'.

A Swiss woman was rejected because 'her environment does not correspond
with company interests'. It is clear from her file that the objection was
that her husband was African. The report states: 'This black, who was able
to enter Switzerland thanks to the marriage, has not been marked by

If the company wants more information it may turn to the French secret
services for what is known inside Servier as a 'complementary analysis'.
According to the source, this has revealed key facts on at least one
occasion - for example, a past membership of the Communist Party that a
candidate had tried to conceal. There is also substantial evidence that, in
exchange for such information, Servier's vetting network is used for
illegal spying missions - particularly in Russia - by the DGSE, France's
foreign counter-espionage service.

'I was twice asked to do this kind of work at lunches held in the villa of
Jacques Servier, the company's founder,' said the source. 'A DGSE colonel
whom I knew was present. I was replaced in Russia by three former officers
in army, navy and air force intelligence. They are not just working for

The company's spokesman, Michel Hannoun, a former MP from the Gaullist RPR
party, denies running an illegal vetting service, saying 'there is no
investigation into the private lives of the laboratory's staff'.

That will now be put to the test. A complaint against Servier - based on a
tip-off filed last year in the district court at Nanterre, near Paris, by
the National Commission on Freedom and Data - alleged specifically that the
company had kept on its database of 50,000 dossiers records of a
candidate's sexuality.

A court spokeswoman said the police investigation was now complete, and the
case is expected to be heard within the next few months.

Guardian Unlimited ? Guardian Newspapers Limited 2000

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