A handsome young man walking behind Carla Bruni. He accompanies her and Nicolas Sarkozy to important appointments. He discusses money, careers and billionaire contracts. The press discovers him and puts him on the grill until the whole Sarkozy galleon is sunk. But not him. Grégoire Verdeaux is more powerful today than he was then. Today, he is the man who, in France and elsewhere, manages contacts with the friends of one of the most powerful multinationals on the planet: Philip Morris International. In any case, Verdeaux proves the accuracy of the proverb: he who finds a friend really does find a treasure.
The management of international funds
Michel Barnier shakes hands with Emmanuel Macron, who will be his opponent in the next presidential election
Grégoire was born in 1972 in the south of Auvergne and graduated close to home, in Clermont-Ferrand . A former centre forward for the local Saint-Flour team, he did so well at university that he was awarded a scholarship to continue (not first at the University of Oklahoma and then at the prestigious Sciences Po (Études Politiques de Paris – a prestigious institute of political studies in Paris), where he forged important relationships that influenced his entire career: in 1995, in fact, he became an advisor to Michel Barnier, the French Minister for European Affairs in the Juppé government, who in 2006 became one of the most important advisors to the candidate for President of the Republic, Nicolas Sarkozy. When the government fell in June 1997, Verdeaux followed Barnier to the Senate as his parliamentary assistant and worked on new tax laws for local and regional authorities.
From 1999 to 2005, Verdeaux taught European constitutional law, specialising in issues of regional and local autonomy and parliamentary institutions in the context of the European Union and was a former member of the Conférence Olivaint, France’s oldest and most influential university fraternity. In 2001, at a very young age, he ran for the RPR (former President Jacques Chirac’s party) in the village of Conflans-Saint-Honorine, where he clashed with the RPF (Le Rassemblement pour la France) of Charles Pasqua and Jacques Myard and was defeated.
That is why he chose to follow Barnier, the new European advisor in charge of structural funds and institutional affairs in Brussels, and therefore a contractual partner of the powerful of Europe, to Brussels. An example: Verdeaux controls the use of 32 billion euros of EU funds in Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands and organised the commissioner’s contacts with the European Parliament and political parties. He also advised Barnier on the process of adopting the draft Constitution prepared by the Commission chaired by Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. In May 2004, he returned to Paris where he became Barnier’s advisor for Europe at the Quai d’Orsay and planned a new global lobbying strategy towards the European institutions. But he stumbled upon the kidnapping (real or fictitious) of the journalists Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot, hostages in Iraq, and was accused of mismanaging the crisis and concealing important information.
After the referendum on the European Constitution in May 2005, he became Programme Manager in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). This is the main UN development agency for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). From New York, Verdeaux coordinates resource mobilization and public and private donor relations for 23 field offices for UNDP social projects in Central and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. In 2007, he was appointed Director of Finance for UNITAID in Geneva, an office of the World Health Organization, where he manages resources and financial commitments on access to HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria drugs for low-income countries – a $400 million per year pie.
Carla’s right hand
Carla Bruni and Nicolas Sarkozy
In October 2008, Verdeaux became President Sarkozy’s deputy chief of staff and remained in office until March 2011 at the head of a team of loyalists: Verdeaux, Claude Guéant, Raymond Soubie, Xavier Musca, Jean-David Levitte, Henri Guaino and Franck Louvrier, who managed diplomatic, economic and communication strategies. A team of the most powerful men in the country, able with a gesture to create and destroy alliances, careers and industrial or financial contracts. The results are negative. Broken electoral promises, the raising of the retirement age to 62, which led to a general strike, the expulsion of the Roma and the creation of a new “class” of underclasses, the appointment of a new executive with clear right-wing tendencies, which drew the wrath of the Vatican and the disapproval of the EU and the UN on France. France is suffering from the effects of the crisis: modest reforms and a public debt that is growing at an unprecedented rate, unemployment and reduced purchasing power.
But Verdeaux is untouchable because, along with his press secretary Vèronique Rampazzo, the musician Julien Civange, Pierre Charon (known as ‘the President’s eye’), Verdeaux is a member of Carla Bruni’s Four Musketeers, the man who chooses her public initiatives, writes all her speeches and coordinates her team of loyalists. Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, ‘The President’, during the crisis decides on important appointments, including ministers, discusses human rights issues with foreign diplomats and, behind her husband’s back, becomes the most influential woman in the history of the French Republic.
Carla introduced Sarkozy to her friends and relatives, and the Top Model’s husband rewarded them – left-wingers such as Frédéric Mitterrand (Minister of Culture and then Director of the French Academy in Rome’s Villa Medici), Philippe Val (ex-director of the weekly ‘Charlie Hebdo’ and now head of public radio France Inter), Marin Karmitz (film producer, then general delegate of the Council), Luc Gruson (husband of Carla’s housekeeper and her sister, now Director of the Paris Museum of the Cité nationale de l’histoire de l’immigration).
In April 2009, the Carla Bruni-Sarkozy Foundation was set up in a discreet office in rue La Boétie, not far from the Elysée Palace, and is directed by an intermediary, Grégoire Verdeaux. The foundation is registered in the United States, which allows it to raise money from generous New York donors – money to develop projects for the homeless, to improve the prison environment, to help the disabled and to facilitate access to “grandes écoles”, through the creation of scholarships, for young people from difficult neighbourhoods.
Verdeaux’s priority is to convince those who already fund UNITAID to also fund Carla Bruni’s Foundation. UNITAID is now led by former foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, and has the same sponsors as Carla: the tax on airline tickets introduced in 2006 by presidents Lula and Chirac; Chirac himself (about 50% of payments to UNITAID) and, suddenly, Nicolas Sarkozy. In 2013 Carla Bruni was accused of having spent 410,000 Euros from the state on the website of her foundation while she was first lady – a site that, according to a petition, is worth around 10,000 Euros – a petition signed by over 127,000 people demanding that Mrs Bruni return the money. The money has now disappeared: the site collapsed on the day of its inauguration due to ‘too many visitors’ and has never been reactivated.
In 2012 Carla is accused of using her influence to hide funds from a Musketeer: according to the charges, Carla Bruni persuaded The Global Fund, a wealthy medical charity for which she acts as an “ambassador“, to allocate $3.5 million (€2.7 million) to Bruni-Sarkozy’s friend Julien Civange so that he could develop a campaign to fight AIDS. Civange is a musician and businessman, adviser to the foundation and a close family friend. Carla denies the figures, but the illicit behaviour is admitted.
From disguised to official lobbying
Julien Civange and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy on 9 January 2012
Grégoire Verdeaux left just in time in 2011 (replaced by Carine Trividic who held the same position at the Ministry of National Education). He was replaced by Carine Trividic, who held the same position at the Ministry of National Education, before the 2012 presidential election, which was resoundingly lost to Sarkozy, and the decline that led in 2021 to convictions for corruption of a magistrate and illegal funding of the presidential campaign, even from Colonel Gaddafi. In Paris, it is rumoured that Verdeaux left because of Carla Bruni’s pregnancy, which should have ‘slowed down the pace of his activities’. A stop that Verdeaux apparently did not agree with. In any case, his resignation saved him from possible consequences due to subsequent scandals.
Verdeaux went to work as director of European policies at EDF Electricité De France (the 83% state-controlled company was created in 1946 to nationalise the assets of various electricity production, transport and distribution companies) and now, between March 2011 and October 2014, became part of the staff of Henri Proglio, the head of EDF. Verdeaux is in charge of energy strategies in the EU and manages EDF’s representative office in Brussels. Proglio has the right spirit for Grégoire: the son of Antibes market gardeners, he ran Veolia (the world leader in waste management and water distribution) from 2000 to 2009 before moving to EDF, becoming famous (among other things) for finding jobs for countless relatives of ministers and MPs, not only in France but all over the world.
EDF and politics are inseparable, as the list of CEOs shows: Gilles Ménage (François Mitterrand’s chief of staff), François Roussely (Pierre Joxe’s chief of staff), Edmond Alphandéry (Edouard Balladur’s economics minister) through to Henri Proglio and Grégoire Verdeaux. It is an industry with a strong military focus – among other things, it is the world’s leading producer of nuclear energy. Grégoire played a key role in the authorisation for the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant in Somerset (a 2016 project by EDF and the UK government, known as “the world’s most expensive power plant“).
The initial agreement between EDF Energy and CGN China General Nuclear Power Corporation is worth around £18 billion, of which a third, through CGN, is paid for by the Chinese state. In 2019 the estimate has risen to £22.9 billion (also confirmed in 2021), and certainly the plant will not be finished by 2025 as planned. Meanwhile the stock market value of EDF has plummeted from more than 150 billion euros in 2008 to around 30 billion euros in 2017, and the French nuclear industry is facing an existential crisis. Added to this, CGN has been blacklisted by the US Department of Commerce for attempting to acquire nuclear technology and material for military use in the US .
Hinkley Point C was an issue in the 2017 French presidential election campaign: Marine Le Pen’s National Front was “fundamentally against” the project, while Emmanuel Macron was in favour. Henri Proglio was never going to survive the election, as he was number two on François Hollande’s blacklist (after Bernard Squarcini – director of intelligence). His implacable enemy, Anne Lauvergeon, close to Hollande since their days together at the Elysée Palace under Mitterrand, had designated him as a member of the ‘P2 lodge’: a clan of ministers, advisers and businessmen who, according to her, had plotted at the heart of the state to serve their particular interests. Proglio left EDF in 2014 rejected by Emmanuel Macron, and Verdeaux changed his ways once again.
Hinkley Point C open worksites
At the end of 2014 he joined Vodafone as the group’s international policy director (until 2019). He built a team based on new aggressive strategies to expand the business in Africa and Asia: “He engaged directly with high-level decision-makers in EU institutions and oversaw the coordination of policy, lobbying, antitrust, compliance and other activities“. He was responsible for the telecommunications company’s European government relations and played a key role in obtaining EU Commission approval for the acquisition of Unitymedia (the network in Germany, Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic) from Liberty Global for €18.4 billion, as well as promoting the company’s ‘Gigabit Society’ concept. At Vodafone, Verdeaux is also responsible for external risk management in emerging markets such as China and other G20 economies.
He is now ready for the big leap. In January 2020, he signed up with one of the world’s biggest lobbying firms, Hering Schuppener Consulting (from July 2020, it will be called Finsbury Glover Hering), to lead its staff in Brussels – a position created especially for him, and he was the first to occupy it. Verdeaux says he is “thrilled” and has raised Hering’s lobbying expenses from less than one million euros to 1.7 million in just one year. Even Hering has become too small for him. After only 9 months, on 1 September, he became Senior Vice President of the External Affairs of Philip Morris International (PMI): “My life for 10 years has been about promoting and regulating carbon-free energy, then 5G and fibre, so now the challenge of transformation seems quite familiar to me”. A gigantic challenge: to prevent the end of the empire of the world’s largest cigarette company in the years when smoking is gradually being banned in most parts of the world.
Lobbying and “Revolving doors”
Athenian philosopher and politician Demosthenes, the first to deal with lobbying laws
Lobbying has always existed. It is not illegal, but only because there is a tacit agreement to buy and sell favours in the face of transparency, integrity and fairness of institutions: since the times of the Athenian Acropolis and the Roman Senate, if you have enough money you can buy the votes of MPs, politicians and even rulers. This phenomenon is the main cause of conflicts of interest. The French call it “pantouflage” and the British invented the term “revolving doors“, referring to the careers of those who yesterday covered the roles of officials and today get paid to exert pressure on those who replaced them.
In 2009, the two chambers of the French Parliament, the National Assembly and the Senate, launched a number of initiatives to regulate lobbying activities within them, so as to ensure greater transparency in political life and prevent some of the illicit relationships between parliamentarians and business and diplomatic interest groups. First of all, it was decided in 2016 to create a national register of interest representatives. When registering, lobbyists must indicate the human resources at their organisation’s disposal for lobbying, as well as the acts covered by their activity, although they do not have to disclose, after declaring the identity of their clients, the amount of their disbursements.
This is how ‘parliamentary friendship groups’ are born. These are associations of MPs who have a particular interest in a foreign country, and who seek to forge political, economic, social and cultural links between French and foreign MPs. Friendship groups can also receive ambassadors or other personalities, as well as French personalities involved in cooperation activities with that country; they can serve as a support point for cooperation activities and promote study groups in which the influence of a given country or company on the French Parliament is discussed.
In order to set up a friendship group and organise a platoon of friends in Parliament, the country concerned must already have diplomatic relations with France and be a member of the UN. For the others, the Assembly can set up an ‘international study group’: this is the case for North Korea, Kosovo, Libya, Palestine, Taiwan and the Vatican. The individual group does not have its own budget, but draws on a global envelope of €450,000 per year (2015) dedicated to receptions and missions, and strictly regulated: France pays for the MEPs’ plane tickets and the host country pays for their stay – although in some cases, such as Cuba, the Assembly takes into account the economic situation and pays for the entire trip. The hearings are held behind closed doors, although (only officially) since December 2017 tobacco and drugs have been excluded from the list of study groups.
And that’s why Philip Morris called Grégoire Verdeaux – the company has half a century of lobbying campaigns and relationships with politicians around the world behind it that help, if necessary, to change laws and contracts. Especially in France, the links between ‘friendship groups’ and SMEs are particularly striking – and it is right that a professional like Verdeaux should be called in to manage them, first and foremost the Franco-Egyptian and Franco-Arab groups.
The chairwoman of the first group, Sonia Krimi, organised the Parliamentary Intelligence Security Forum in Paris in 2019, whose speakers included a Philip Morris man. In the same year, Krimi helped launch a law on strengthening the fiscal and criminal sanctions of the bulk tobacco trade (which is 25-30% in France), adding the obligation to product traceability – a project that had already started in Italy in 2015 and whose management was assigned to PMI. In November 2019, Krimi signed a new bill prohibiting (as requested by Philip Morris) the marketing of cigarettes with a non-compostable filter.
Bérengère Poletti, Republican, member of the Foreign Affairs Commission supports several initiatives by Sonia Krimi (like her party colleague Jean-Luc Reitzer), such as the bill on increasing tax and penal sanctions on the bulk tobacco trade, the bill on standardising packaging, the bill on increasing taxes on smoking and the bill on banning cigarettes with non-compostable filters. The latter proposal is also signed by the President of the Franco-Saudi friendship group, Jean-Baptiste Moreau.
Jérôme Lambert, on the other hand, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and of the Franco-Egyptian Friendship Group, had already tabled amendments in 2015 on behalf of (including) Philip Morris against an increase in tobacco taxes, which was then retabled by 32 MEPs from all parties, including Robin Reda, Vice-President of the Franco-Egyptian Group, who is in favour of the legalisation of cannabis and against tobacco bans.
There is the very special case of the multi-billionaire Olivier Dassault, the man who heads the industry that produces the Falcon private jets and the Mirage and Rafale fighter planes, a member of the French Parliament for the Republicans, who died in March 2021 at the age of 69 in a helicopter crash in Normandy: concerned about counterfeiting and tobacco smuggling, for years an accuser of Philip Morris’ competitors, when the French government proposed introducing standardised packages, he signed (along with 40 other MPs) a letter against additional taxation (along with Jérôme Lambert). He signed it as a member of the board of the Interpol Foundation for the Safer World, an NGO that supports Interpol financially and is in turn promoted by private multinationals, including Philip Morris.
All regular, all legal, no scandal. Philip Morris, like other companies, has the right to use the network of relationships of its managers to obtain influence in national legislation. Nobody is bribed, because everything happens within legally recognized structures, according to systems that have been in use for over a century and a half, as described in ‘The Gilded Age’, the satirical novel on American federal politics published in 1873 by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner – a novel that is as relevant today as ever. Politicians are persuaded dialectically, and then they earn some money as speakers at international conferences, receive official electoral donations, enjoy seeing their philanthropic initiatives supported by large multinational corporations, become part of a small and elevated circle of people.
Circles in which the most active people are those like Grégoire Verdeaux. It can truly be said of him that he who finds a friend finds a treasure – and, perhaps, also the one who manages and increases it for you, without any wrongdoing or personal reputation being affected.
 https://www.repubblica.it/2004/i/sezioni/esteri/iraq33/giornfranc/giornfranc.html ; https://www.lefigaro.fr/international/2006/05/22/01003-20060522ARTWWW90400-l_histoire_secrete_du_retour_des_otages.php
 https://www.vie-publique.fr/discours/145285-entretiens-de-m-michel-barnier-ministre-des-affaires-etrangeres-avec ; https://www.vie-publique.fr/discours/144403-intervention-de-m-michel-barnier-ministre-des-affaires-etrangeres-dev
 https://www.lsa-conso.fr/annuaire-professionnels-grande-consommation/verdeaux-gregoire/189082 ; https://www.lemonde.fr/societe/article/2010/04/13/m-sarkozy-recadre-le-travail-de-ses-conseillers-a-l-elysee_1332876_3224.html
 https://www.ilfattoquotidiano.it/2010/08/19/rom-sarkozy-va-avanti-con-le-espulsioni-ma-ora-e-polemica-con-romania-e-ue/51406/ ; https://sfi.usc.edu/education/roma-sinti/it/questioni-aperte/intercultura/la-guerra-ai-rom-conflitto-sociale/i-rom-espulsi.php
 Francia, La regina dell’Eliseo, L’Italienne; Espresso 37, 2010, Page 37. See more: https://issuu.com/paolosecondini/docs/espresso_37_2010
 http://www.pensezbibi.com/categories/pensees-politiques/carla-gregoire-verdeaux-et-les-financements-innovants-4945 ; http://www.pensezbibi.com/categories/pensees-politiques/gregoire-verdeaux-l%e2%80%99auvernat-de-la-maison-carla-1-1826#more-1826
 Francia, La regina dell’Eliseo, L’Italienne; Espresso 37, 2010, Page 38. See more: https://issuu.com/paolosecondini/docs/espresso_37_2010
 Francia, La regina dell’Eliseo, L’Italienne; Espresso 37, 2010, Page 36. See more: https://issuu.com/paolosecondini/docs/espresso_37_2010
 https://www.leparisien.fr/culture-loisirs/philippe-val-l-ami-qui-derange-17-05-2009-516196.php ; https://www.gala.fr/l_actu/news_de_stars/philippe-val-jetais-ami-avec-carla-bien-avant-quelle-ne-rencontre-nicolas-sarkozy_425523
 https://www.palazzograssi.it/it/artisti/marin-karmitz/ ; Francia, La regina dell’Eliseo, L’Italienne; Espresso 37, 2010, Page 38. See more: https://issuu.com/paolosecondini/docs/espresso_37_2010
 La fondazione è stata chiusa nel Giugno 2019, see also: https://www.fondationdefrance.org/fr/presentation-de-la-fondation-carla-bruni-sarkozy ; https://www.parismatch.com/People/Carla-Bruni-annonce-la-fin-d-une-aventure-qui-lui-tenait-a-coeur-1631058
 https://www.lefigaro.fr/international/2009/09/23/01003-20090923ARTFIG00061-carla-sarkozy-en-mission-pour-sa-fondation-.php ; https://www.fondationdefrance.org/fr/presentation-de-la-fondation-carla-bruni-sarkozy
 https://www.rfi.fr/en/europe/20120107-carla-bruni-sarkozy-charity-accused-handing-aids-fight-funds-friends ; https://www.lesinrocks.com/actu/julien-civange-le-conseiller-rock-de-carla-bruni-20192-08-02-2012/ ; https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/bruni-under-fire-over-charity-grant-to-friend-bw096rtq6dc
 https://www.ilsole24ore.com/art/sarkozy-condannato-3-anni-cui-di-carcere-lo-scandalo-intercettazioni-ADiOC1MB?refresh_ce=1 ; https://www.repubblica.it/esteri/2021/03/17/news/francia_ancora_guai_per_sarkozy_di_nuovo_in_tribunale_finanziamento_illegale_della_campagna_del_2012_-292562147/
 https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/jul/28/hinkley-point-c-to-go-ahead-after-edf-board-approves-project ; https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-confirms-hinkley-point-c-project-following-new-agreement-in-principle-with-edf
 https://www.pillsburylaw.com/en/news-and-insights/china-industry-entity-list.html ; https://www.scmp.com/business/companies/article/2002539/china-general-nuclear-power-accused-espionage-its-adviser-us
 https://www.telecompaper.com/news/vodafone-completes-takeover-of-unitymedia-upc-from-liberty-global–1303012 ; https://www.broadbandtvnews.com/2019/07/31/liberty-global-completes-vodafone-cable-deal/
 https://www.vodafone.com/business/why-vodafone/gigabit-society ; https://www.corriere.it/economia/17_dicembre_12/vodafone-lancia-gigabit-society-milano-citta-capofila-5g-850d52c2-dea4-11e7-b187-5e2bcfb79ac2.shtml
 https://revuedestabacs.com/blog/assembl%C3%A9e-nationale-la-mission-veut-acc%C3%A9l%C3%A9rer-lexp%C3%A9rimentation-et-p%C3%A9renniser-la-fili%C3%A8re/ ; https://revuedestabacs.com/blog/les-ventes-de-cigarettes-peuvent-cesser-dici-10-%C3%A0-15-ans-dans-de-nombreux-pays/