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Ex-France Telecom executives ordered to stand trial over suicides

France Telecom's outgoing CEO Didier Lombard attends a news conference in Paris February 25, 2010.

Benoit Tessier / REUTERS

The former head of France Telecom and six other executives have been ordered to stand trial over their alleged role in a wave of suicides starting in 2008. They are charged with "moral harassment." 

Prosecutors have long claimed they presided over a culture of harassment at the firm that led at least 19 employees to kill themselves, BBC News reports. According to Reuters, the suicides included a man who stabbed himself during a staff meeting and a woman who threw herself out a window. 

According to Le Monde, judges investigated cases involving 39 employees: 19 were suicides, 12 were attempted suicides and eight were cases of depression. The union claim 35 employees died between 2008 and 2009, Le Monde reports. 

A lawyer for Didier Lombard, a former human resources head and a deputy CEO, told Reuters the charges are "absurd." As part of restructuring, Lombard was trying to cut 22,000 jobs and retrain at least 10,000 workers, according to BBC News. 

"I'll get them out one way or another, through the window or through the door," BBC News reports he was quoted as telling senior managers in 2007. 

A 2010 report by labor inspectors said management used "pathogenic" restructuring methods, including forcing people into new jobs and giving unattainable performance objectives, Reuters reports. 

Lombard stepped down in 2010 amid criticism of his handling of the crisis, according to Reuters. He has denied any wrongdoing. All but two of the accused executives are now retired. 

If found guilty, they could face up to two years in prison and 30,000 euros in fines. 

France Telecom became Orange in 2013.