(Bloomberg) -- Electricite de France SA legal team warned at a Paris trial that the utility could end up losing “huge contracts” abroad if convicted in a case over accusations it favored several consultants by awarding them advisory deals without putting them up for tender.

The favoritism court case that began on Tuesday centers on awards worth more than €20 million ($21.7 million) given to 44 consultants, including the firm set up by former Vivendi SE boss Jean-Marie Messier.

While EDF risks a maximum fine of €1 million, its lawyer warned that many of its own contracts require having a clean criminal record when it comes to matters of probity, which raises the stakes much higher.

“If EDF were to be convicted over an integrity breach, this could have far-reaching consequences for both future and past contracts,” the utility’s attorney, Jean Reinhart, said on Tuesday. “Clearly, this would have consequences for huge contracts in the UK, the Czech Republic and elsewhere, where we may face debarment.”

For EDF, the trial comes as it competes to get a contract to build as many as four new reactors in the Czech Republic, and is seeking with the UK government to convince investors to help fund the construction of two units in Sizewell.

Messier & Associés, which advises clients on M&A deals, is now controlled by Mediobanca SpA after the Italian bank acquired a majority stake in 2019.

Read more: EDF Is Said to Face Trial in 2024 Over Favoritism Allegations

At the heart of the Paris favoritism trial that began on Tuesday is EDF’s former boss, Henri Proglio, who is suspected of having set up the system to hire the consultants. 

The case is also directed against Messier & Associés. The firm that Messier set up shortly after his ouster from Vivendi is suspected of having earned €1.9 million through the deals.

Among the consultants on trial is another controversial French business figure: Loik Le Floch-Prigent, jailed decades ago as part of the Elf oil scandal. The case against him concerns billing worth nearly €1.4 million.

EDF’s former CEO and the consultants risk a two-year jail term and €200,000 penalty, while Messier’s advisory could be fined as much as €1 million. 

Proglio denied any wrongdoing as part of the contracts. EDF and attorneys for Messier & Associés declined to comment. A lawyer for Le Floch-Prigent didn’t immediately return a request for comment. 

Some consultants under investigation from France’s Parquet National Financier have already pleaded guilty. Another group also avoided a trial after financial prosecutors decided to drop its case against those advisers who received amounts under a certain threshold. All relevant contracts were signed by EDF between 2010 and 2016.

The Paris criminal court case is due to last two or three weeks and a ruling is expected months later.

--With assistance from Francois de Beaupuy.

(Adds context in fifth paragraph)

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.