Suspended Altice France Executive Denies Wrongdoing Amid Probe

(Bloomberg) — An Altice France executive who was suspended in relation to a Portuguese corruption probe involving some of the group’s most powerful figures has denied any wrongdoing.

(Bloomberg) — An Altice France executive who was suspended in relation to a Portuguese corruption probe involving some of the group’s most powerful figures has denied any wrongdoing.

Tatiana Agova-Bregou, the executive director in charge of content, acquisitions and partnerships at the telecommunications company, was placed on leave this week, according to an internal union memo seen by Bloomberg. 

Agova-Bregou’s lawyer, Avi Bitton, said in a statement on Thursday that his client was “surprised that her name is associated with the supposed financial embezzlement allegedly committed by people within the Altice group” and that she “believes she has committed no wrongdoing.” A representative for Altice declined to comment. 

Agova-Bregou has been in the role since 2019. She is the first Altice France employee to be placed on leave, the memo said.

The suspension was announced at a meeting between management and union representatives of Altice France on Wednesday. The company’s Chairman Arthur Dreyfuss and Mathieu Coca, the chief executive officer of its subsidiary SFR, addressed the Portuguese investigation and its consequences for the company, according to people who attended and asked not to be identified because it wasn’t public. The top managers said that all suspension decisions were taken to protect the company, the people said. 

The suspension brings the fallout from the Portuguese case into the heart of billionaire Patrick Drahi’s telecommunications empire. The company has already cut ties with several suppliers operating in France in relation to the allegations, Bloomberg reported. 

Read more: Drahi’s Telecom Empire Wrestles With Corruption Probe Fallout

Since Altice co-founder Armando Pereira was detained in Portugal on July 13 as part of a criminal investigation into alleged corruption, tax fraud and money laundering, the company has suspended contracts with about 60 suppliers, launched internal audits, and has put its US head of procurement Yossi Benchetrit — Pereira’s son-in-law — on leave. Alexandre Fonseca, chairman of Altice USA, has also been suspended, along with about ten other employees, the company previously said.

“Portuguese authorities have identified that Altice Portugal has allegedly been defrauded as a result of harmful practices and misconduct of certain individuals and external entities,” an Altice spokesperson said.

Pereira’s lawyer has denied the Portuguese prosecutor’s allegations. 

Before joining Altice in early 2019, Agova-Bregou served nine years at Completel, a cable company that’s also part of Drahi’s empire, according to her LinkedIn profile. She has spent much of her career in business development and content acquisition and studied economics in schools in Sofia and Lyon, according to the site.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Dreyfuss said that the company was still reviewing its suppliers but had determined that the impact of the alleged fraud seemed limited, according to an Unsa union readout of the meeting, seen by Bloomberg. 

Less than 4% of Altice France’s total group purchasing expenditure appears to be linked to the alleged activity at this stage of the internal investigation, and around 5% in Portugal, the executive said, according to the readout. 

Later Wednesday, Altice USA said it’s reviewing all supplier and vendor relationships and will pause some capital spending until the internal investigation at its parent company is complete. Altice USA has named Jennifer Yohe, a 25-year procurement veteran, to replace Benchetrit. 

Union representatives have expressed concerns about Altice’s anti-corruption processes for years. The announcement of Agova-Bregou’s suspension followed another meeting with management, arranged weeks before Portuguese authorities announced their investigation. The main agenda item for that meeting was to review the system that allowed employees to flag suspected cases of corruption. The unions asked management for more transparency on the system, including “responses to the various alerts that have been issued” in the past, according to another memo seen by Bloomberg.

Union representatives expressed concern that the anti-corruption system seemed to have been “ineffective” in light of the Portuguese investigation and called for the “deployment of a suitable, secure system based on a transparent assessment,” the memo said.

“We have always been compliant, diligent and proactive with local and global anti-corruption laws and the company cannot be criticized on that front,” said an Altice spokesperson. 

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