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He is one of the most powerful and influential men in France today. Not only is Xavier Niel the founder and main shareholder of the country's second biggest internet service provider, Free, the billionaire businessman is also part-owner of the nation's best-known newspaper Le Monde. Such is his power – and personality – that he is not afraid to take on Google, while he is friends with some of the most prominent families who make up France's wealthy business elite. Yet in the late 1980s Niel was a 'brilliant but penniless' youth with no formal qualifications working as a technician in the twilight world of sex chatlines and dating in central Paris. In an investigation Mediapart charts Niel's career from his lucrative ownership of sex shops in Paris and Strasbourg to the day he seized total control of the company that would ultimately make him France’s 12th wealthiest man. Laurent Mauduit and Dan Israel report.
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