A close friend of Richard Ferrand, who now heads the ruling La République en Marche (LREM) party at the National Assembly, was awarded several public contracts by a council to which the politician had just been elected, Mediapart can reveal. Architect Serge Carnus, who has been a friend of Ferrand for 37 years, won the contracts from the département or county council of Finistère in Brittany in western France in the early 2000s. At the time Ferrand, who is a now key ally of President Emmanuel Macron, had just been elected to the département council.
Over the course of three or four years the architect picked up contracts in relation to work on the Trévarez château, a local tourist landmark, and to restore a cloister at Quimperlé, both of them awarded by the département council. At the same time he designed a rest and leisure area on the Nantes to Brest Canal for a joint organisation that included members of the département council and local village councils. In at least one of these case Richard Ferrand was in a key position of influence.
“I've been Richard's friend for 37 years,” Carnus told police last June when he was questioned over the affair. “We trust each other.” Meanwhile Sandrine Doucen said at the time: “For Serge … what mattered was to do me a favour.”
When Mediapart spoke to Serge Carnus about his links with Richard Ferrand and his work in Brittany, he refused to discuss those past council contracts. “Do you know the principle of public contracts?” he asked. “There are competitive pitches with files to fill in, a committee which decides … I'll send you the details! Check with the département council: it's all in order,” he told Mediapart. But he declined to discuss the individual contracts.
Yet when one looks in detail at those contracts a number of coincidences leap out. One simply has to wind back the clock to 1998, the year when Finistère moved to the Left politically and when Richard Ferrand, then a member of the Socialist Party, took up a seat on the council.
Château de Trévarez. Owned by the département, this pink building has fallen into disrepair but with its wonderful gardens and exceptional collection of rhododendrons it was at the heart of the local Socialist Party branch's cultural ambitions at the time. After 1999 a major development project was envisaged involving its restoration and the creation of a multimedia set design This was costed at four million euros over four years. There was also a competitive tender process to appoint a project manager to oversee the initial studies – on the architecture and the multimedia set – based around the planting aspect of the plans. This contract was worth 500,000 euros. Over the course of time and as a result of financial problems the project rapidly reduced in scale but at the time eight different groups battled it out to be selected.
According to Mediapart's information this contract was awarded after what is called a “negotiated” bid process, in other words a simplified one, which is allowed under the code on the awarding of public contracts for “the re-use or restoration of existing works”. In this case the département council followed the “advice” of an ad hoc committee that was made up largely of councillors. Among its members was Richard Ferrand himself. Though the decision seems to have been taken unanimously, two questions remain. Was Richard Ferrand in a position to provide privileged information to his friend Serge Carnus? And did he have any have influence on the decision itself? Contacted by Mediapart the current boss of LREM declined to comment on this or any other aspect of the story.
At that time Ferrand certainly held a key position: that of president of the 'Trévarez organising committee', the association which runs the château and its grounds on behalf of the council. It is a château which which Ferrand has also had personal connections. His partner, Sandrine Doucen, worked there in 2000 at the age of 25 on a youth employment contract. It is also the château where Ferrand's first wife, a local artist, exhibited her works.
In fact, Ferrand seems to have had a consistent and prominent role when it came to Trévarez. Several days after the château contract was awarded in March 1999 it was Richard Ferrand who represented Finistère's councillors at the first “steering committee” on the issue, Richard Ferrand who explained the council's “expectations” to the winning bidders, in front of his friend Carnus, and Richard Ferrand whom the winners “thanked” for his “confidence” in them. A month later it was also Ferrand who wrote to a partner organisation of the département to declare: “I don't intend to commit the Finistère council and the future of the Trévarez estate without a contractual guarantee ...”
However the project, named 'Dream the life of a château', very quickly ran into difficulties. The main landscaper withdrew and the département council had to cancel the existing project management contract and recommence the process to award a new one, once again in a “negotiated” format. This time Serge Carnus headed up a bid team himself and beat off ten other rivals to win the contract at the start of 2002. There is no trace of any direct involvement of Richard Ferrand in this.
Matters went from bad to worse with the project. Facing financial constraints the council had to prune its ambitions when to came to the scope of the works and three members of Serge Carnus's team had their contracts cancelled in 2006, while the contract for him and his final co-contractor was amended various times, ending up with a figure of around 200,000 euros. How much did Serge Carnus earn in the end? It is hard to say. In any case, the département council pulled back so much at the end of the 2000s that despite the public money that had already been committed, the public would have been hard pushed to spot any changes made at Trévarez.
A church at Quimperlé. A second project management contract was awarded by the council to Serge Carnus in 2000, this time for the restoration of the cloister at Sainte-Croix church at Quimperlé in Finistère, according to committee reports seen by Mediapart. The initial sum that he shared with his business partner was 47,000 euros, with a provision for this potentially to be increased by 10,000 euros in 2003. How was this choice made? Did the project carry on to the end? Mediapart has not yet been able to see all the related administrative documents.
Squividan manor house. So far Mediapart has not not found any public reports relating to the work carried out here. However, Serge Carnus mentions, in his practice's own literature, a “survey” of the existing buildings at the the manor house at Clohars-Fouesnant in Finistère, owned by the département council in 2000. When questioned by Mediapart on this Serge Carnus did not respond.
The Nantes to Brest canal. In this instance the awarding of the contract seems to have been quite open and certainly very fast. In 1999 the organisation in charge of maintaining the canal, SMATAH, a public body bringing together representatives from local villages and Finistère council and funded largely by the latter, launched a bid process to find an architect to design a rest area at Port-de-Carhaix on the banks of the canal. Under a certain sum the law allows for a more limited consultation and bid process. In this case the initial expert chosen for the work – with the help of the prefecture, the state body that operates at département level – had just withdrawn from the project.
So SMATAH gave its president – a département councillor - the “authority” to “take the necessary measures to find a new architect”. This was not Richard Ferrand, who though he was a member of SMATAH, did not become its president until 2004. However, it was his friend Serge Carnus who in 2000 supplied to SMATAH a drawing for a new rest area, costing his services at several thousand euros. In the end his design was judged to be too ambitious for the cash-strapped organisation and SMATAH chose to replace his planned building with simple composting toilets. It is even possible that Carnus was never paid for his work.
Judging from his portfolio, it appears that the architect was not awarded any more public contracts in Finistère after the middle of the 2000s. But his friendship with Richard Ferrand continued. In 2011, when Sandrine Doucen had to chose a name for her property company in which her partner's friend had a legally required but token stake, she chose the name SACA. As in Sandrine and Carnus.
- The French version of this article can be found here.
English version by Michael Streeter