After a birth in Albertville in 1981, the company Spirel settled in 1983 in Saint-Rémy-de-Maurienne, a small industrial city nestled in the Savoyard valley bottom.
Its statistic production activity then counts among its customers Somfy, a group of Haute-Savoie specialized in the manufacture of shutters. In 1992, the shareholders of this group decided to acquire Spirel in order to control their source of supply.
From that day, the company lost all autonomy, the manufacture was specialized to excess, a single product, a single customer, and the power grabbed by the leaders of Somfy deciding in the smallest details of the management and the production. The profits are paid in dividends by Somfy SA, the holding company, which siphons off the company's resources and leaves it no room for financial maneuver.
In 2008, the shareholders decided to relocate the production of stators in Tunisia and to close Spirel. To justify the destruction of 220 jobs, leaders invoke the preservation of competitiveness, using the pretext of the crisis of 2008.
But this argument has, in fact, no basis: from 2003 to 2009, the group's profits, from 64 million to 122 million euros depending on the year, are distributed for nearly half in dividends, ensuring shareholders a exceptional profitability compared to the 9 million euros invested capital.
At the end of 2008, the announcement of the closure of Spirel and the removal of hundreds of jobs are like a bomb in this valley already devastated. The combativeness of the employees occupying the factory day and night and the sling of the local elected officials worried the leaders of Somfy. Anxious to preserve their image, they will modify their strategy and proceed in two stages.
First, the implementation of a voluntary departure plan with "attractive" benefits of € 30,000. Pessimists about the future, a hundred employees agree to leave in these conditions.
Then, to "get rid" of the remaining 110 employees, without getting dirty hands and at lower cost, Somfy executives use the scenario, already honed at Samsonite, which consists of remunerating an intermediary to do the dirty work.
One euro invested, 2.8 million diverted
In return for a symbolic euro, they offer a portfolio worth an estimated 2 million euros, and the availability of cash of 1.8 million. In addition, they guarantee the buyer orders covering four years of production.
Very curiously, only a small local boss, Chappel, declares himself interested. To convince the seriousness of his candidacy, he claims to have invented a new generation engine that would allow the diversification of production and the conquest of new markets.
And he was on his word! No Somfy officer verifies the existence of the engine or requires the submission of a budget estimate. In September 2010, the deal is concluded!
For the next four years, Somfy remains Spirel's sole client, without ever worrying about the financial management of the buyer.
Assured of total impunity, Chappel has no scruple at using the cash register.
Firstly, dividends were deducted for 1.3 million euros, and then, via fictitious or overvalued invoices, transfers of more than 1.5 million euros to other subsidiaries of his group. Thus, in two years and four months, Chappel diverts 2.8 million euros, for an initial investment of one euro.
As for the revolutionary engine, nobody ever sees the color.
At the end of 2012, Spirel is bloodless, Somfy puts his hand in the pocket without even worrying about the origin of the financial difficulties. The employees are worried. With reason, since a report of expertise asked in 2011 by the elected members of the works council denounced the maneuvers of their leader. Transmitted to Somfy's leaders, this document provokes no reaction from them.
In January 2013, Spirel is declared in receivership and its final closure pronounced in July 2014. Chappel is not sued and the shareholders of Somfy deny any responsibility in this social disaster. And, supreme provocation, in 2014, the year of the closure of Spirel and the assumption by the community of the cost of dismissal, they claim an exceptional dividend of 392 million euros.
But if the Somfy scheme seems to have succeeded, it has not affected the fighting spirit of the employees. During the period of judicial recovery, the workers are constantly alerting the media, local elected officials, the public authorities by demonstrations, and a shocking video (YouTube, closure of Spirel).
The closure pronounced, they go to court to obtain compensation for the financial loss suffered. Their lawyer, Fyodor Rilov, pleads Somfy's de facto management and the fraudulent nature of the assignment, based on the jurisprudence of the Douai Court of Appeal in the Samsonite case.
At first instance in Albertville, the employees were dismissed, the court considering that Somfy was not legally their employer, a surprising decision under the circumstances: for twenty-five years, from 1991 to 2014, Somfy remained the only customer, fixing quantities to produce and selling price, so real manager of Spirel. The appeal hearing was held on March 4 in Chambéry, the decision will be rendered on May 21.
Over the last ten years, the fortune of the Despature family, 80% of Somfy's shareholder, who refused to allocate 9 million euros to the financing of workers' allowances, increased by 1.5 billion euros.