VERSAILLES, France (AP) — Ikea’s French subsidiary and several of its former executives went on trial Monday over accusations that they illegally spied on employees and customers.
Trade unions reported the furniture and home goods company to French authorities in 2012, accusing it of collecting personal data by fraudulent means and the illicit disclosure of personal information.
The unions specifically alleged that Ikea France had paid to gain access to police files that had information about targeted individuals. Ikea France denied spying on anyone, but Sweden-based Ikea fired four executives in France after French prosecutors opened a criminal probe in 2012.
One accusation alleged that Ikea France used unauthorized data to try to catch an employee who had claimed unemployment benefits but drove a Porsche. Another says the subsidiary investigated an employee’s criminal record to determine how the employee was able to own a BMW on a low income.
Customers the company was in a dispute with also allegedly had their personal information inappropriately accessed.
Ikea France, a subsidiary of Swedish furniture company Ikea, said Monday it has cooperated with French judicial authorities and that such activities “seriously undermine the company’s values and ethical standards.”
“Ikea France takes the protection of its employees’ and customers’ data very seriously,” the company said in a statement. It said it adopted compliance and training procedures to prevent illegal activity after the investigation was opened in 2012.
The former head of Ikea France’s risk management department, Jean-François Paris, acknowledged to French judges that 530,000 to 630,000 euros a year ($633,000 to $753,000) were earmarked for such investigations. Paris, who is among those accused, said his department was responsible for handling it.
Former Ikea France CEOs Jean-Louis Baillot and Stefan Vanoverbeke, former Chief Financial Officer Dariusz Rychert, store managers and police officers are also going on trial.
If convicted, the two ex-CEOs face sentences of up to 10 years in prison and fines of 750,000 euros. Ikea France faces a maximum penalty of 3.75 million euros. The trial is scheduled to last until April 2.
The company also faces potential damages from civil lawsuits filed by unions and 74 employees.
“It would appear inconceivable that a company of this size, with several stores in different countries, would not be aware of the illegality of the private data available to it,” investigating judges involved in the case said, according to court documents.
In France, Ikea employs more than 10,000 people in 34 stores, an e-commerce site and a customer support center.