The head of Cooperl Arc Atlantique has warned of the likelihood the French pork major will have to close production plants if it has to pay a fine of EUR35m for its alleged part in a price-fixing cartel.

Cooperl has pleaded innocence and lodged an appeal against the fine.

CEO Emmanuel Commault told just-food: “Not only do we contest this fine, but above all we believe it threatens the future of the group by making us lose the confidence of our bankers and especially of the credit insurers in a context of the [Covid-19] health crisis. The downgrading of our rating would cost us an additional EUR100m.

“The only solution would be to freeze all recruitment, all investments but also to close two to three processing sites out of the 12 we have in France. This is not a threat to take lightly.”

France’s Ministry of Economy and Industry said it was “particularly vigilant” about Cooperl’s financial situation and had been working since the summer to ensure all of the group’s financial partners maintain their commitments.

It noted Cooperl and its subsidiary, Brocéliande, had lodged an appeal against the fine at the end of last month and, while awaiting the verdict, intend to file a petition with the Paris Court of Appeal to obtain a stay of execution of the decision of France’s competition authority over the payment of the fine.

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By GlobalData

“In the absence of a decision to suspend enforcement, the competent services of the General Directorate of Public Finance will initiate enforcement, under time conditions compatible with the Cooperl group’s ability to pay so that the fine does not represent a risk to the group’s activity and the employment of its staff,” the ministry said. “The group can count on the commitment of the Ministry to ensure the continuity of its activities and employment.”

Last year, Cooperl posted profits of EUR29m based on EUR2.4bn in revenues.