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Orange’s chief executive Stéphane Richard is to leave the French telecoms group by the end of January at the latest, after he was given a one-year suspended prison sentence in a fraud case unconnected to the company.

The long-running legal saga, linked to late businessman Bernard Tapie and Richard’s time in a government job, had long hung over the executive’s tenure at Orange, although he had been acquitted of any wrongdoing in an earlier ruling.

But Richard, who is also chair, handed in his resignation at a board meeting on Wednesday, the company said. It will take effect when “the new governance structure has been appointed and at the latest by January 31 2022”, Orange added.

After a decade in the role, Richard was one of the longest-serving leaders in European telecoms and leaves at a time of turmoil and fierce competition within the sector. His mandate was due to end in May 2022.

Richard had harboured ambitions of staying on as chair, even though he had said he would be prepared to relinquish his chief executive job by then.

A French appeals court cleared Richard of aiding fraud but found him guilty of complicity in the misuse of public funds, linked to a previous position as Christine Lagarde’s chief of staff when she was finance minister. He was also fined €50,000.

Richard rejected the verdict and said he would appeal to France’s highest court. “During the process, the charges have shifted . . . this is totally incomprehensible and profoundly unjust,” he said in a statement.

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