"Comments by Dominique Giroud on the various issues".
L'Giroud case has been the subject of more than 600 press articles over the last few months, not to mention audio-visual coverage, and you have hardly been heard from. This silence could be taken as an admission of guilt. Shouldn't you have responded to the accusations, now that they have become public?
Perhaps naively, I thought that a citizen should answer to judges before answering to journalists. I made this clear in December in a press release sent to all editorial offices. This obviously gives the media some scope for incomplete or incorrect information. I'm not the first to try this kind of extreme experiment.
The proceedings are not yet closed, but you are giving us an interview.
I'm not speaking today about current issues, but about certain problems that I feel are of general interest, and on which the public also has the right to receive answers.
You recently requested pre-provisional measures suspending the broadcast of a film from the RTS about you. It seemed a little ridiculous in the mass of revelations falling from all sides. What was your point?
My aim has never been to prevent the press from doing its job. The RTS wanted to broadcast a new biased and incriminating report. I felt that some of the content, which was largely erroneous and out of context, was unworthy of a public service medium. That it would generate new misunderstandings.
The judge finally gave the green light to the RTS.
That's right. The judge felt that my rights had already been violated to such an extent, particularly by other media, that it no longer made sense to ban this report. In his view, it was up to me to seek compensation at a later date. I have appealed against this decision. I should point out that on 11 March, the Court of Sion ruled on another report that the RTS "had presented a distorted image
of reality, speaking of "unsubstantiated allegations", and even of "denial". This seems to me to be particularly revealing. This tax case is still under investigation, and it is obviously much more complex than some articles suggest. I'll have more to say on the subject at the end of the proceedings.
It seems you've always had a tense relationship with the media.
I've been asked to write a number of positive articles over the last few years in Balance sheet, Le Temps, PME Magazine, L'Hebdo, Tages Anzeiger and I could go on. When, all of a sudden, you are the subject of terribly negative, repetitive, often false and destructive articles on a daily basis, your relationship with the media evokes and can appear strained.
If the investigations have become public, it's also because there have been leaks. Do you think that there are people who wish you ill and are not satisfied with justice doing its job?
There have indeed been targeted leaks, coming from the highest level. As for the rest, I don't enter into that kind of consideration. It is up to the institutions that allowed certain documents to be leaked to answer for their mistakes.
Do you get the impression that everyone is rushing to settle personal scores?
I avoid speculating on the subject. Above all, I avoid asking myself several times a day who benefits from media one-upmanship. In cinema, it's usually at the end of the film that you get to the bottom of the plot.
What we've been hearing for years in Valais is that your spectacular success in the wine business is incomprehensible, impossible. That your cellar, prominently located at the foot of the road to Nendaz, is a luxury, and that your money is of dubious origin?
I've often heard that about successful businesses, and not just in Valais. I started with the help of my family, especially my father, as most new businesses do. Bank loans then enabled me to invest. I've been lucky enough to succeed in the wine business, in exports, but also in other agri-food and property businesses, with good synergies. I've worked hard, with a highly motivated and committed team. We have developed a niche as a wine broker-wholesaler that nobody believed in. This vertical and innovative integration has been an important lever. There has been constant work on several ranges of wines, of which I am very proud. We opened up new markets with new products and won hundreds of medals in Switzerland and abroad.
Can you give us some figures on the company?
Like most private, unlisted companies, I reserve my internal information for my financial partners. As you know, this is common practice. It is common knowledge that we employ more than a hundred people and that we have hundreds of suppliers and partners, in the Valais and in Switzerland, as well as abroad.
Do you feel you have made any mistakes?
Yes, I'm too impetuous. Yes, I've made mistakes along the way. And I will always accept my responsibilities. But I answer to my staff, to my partners, to the law, not to self-appointed prosecutors.
In tax matters, these are major and deliberate errors.
I acknowledge that I have not declared all my income. I am aware that this is not acceptable and I sincerely regret it. As for the rest, a procedure is underway, the conclusions of which are not yet known. What I can tell you is that the amounts in question do not exceed 2% of the company's turnover over the period in question. This is a far cry from a "business model", as some unfortunately maliciously suggest.
What about false invoices?
These are false supporting documents for real cases. I am solely responsible for them, as I admitted during the hearings.
You said that some of the things you were accused of were common practice in the profession. This gives the impression that you are trying to relativise your responsibility.
My words, taken out of context by leaks, have been distorted and exaggerated. In reality, I recognise my faults and will not accuse anyone of covering up for me, as I have been wrongly accused of doing.
What kind of regrets do you have? Would you do it differently in hindsight?
I really underestimated the importance of what I'm accused of today. With serious consequences for those close to me and the employees who represent the soul of the company. I regret that. Today, at the age of 43, having started from almost nothing, with little training and having plunged headlong into the business, I regret the current situation that has forced me to withdraw from a business that is a success from the point of view of its work in wine.
How are you coping with these events?
Fortunately, I'm very resilient, both physically and mentally, which is probably due to the hours I spend in the vineyards. Above all, I have true friends and loyal professional partners who support me despite the attacks that are also directed at them.
You are said to be close to the traditionalist circles of Ecône.
I don't understand your question. In what way do my supposed beliefs, which fall within my private sphere, have any relevance in this matter? If another taxpayer doesn't declare all his income, are we going to find out that he's a Protestant or a Buddhist?
The case Giroud very quickly took on a political dimension in Valais, because your former independent auditor, at the time
is now a Christian Democrat member of the Council of State.
Mr Tornay carried out his work as an independent auditor with complete integrity, based on the facts of which he was aware.
What was your relationship with him?
Strictly professional. We've only eaten together once in the last twenty years.
And what about today?
I can't see Maurice Tornay any more. I'm very sorry that Mr Tornay, who is a man of uprightness and integrity, has been put in this predicament.
What is your relationship with the political microcosm?
In Valais, these relationships are both complicated and very simple. Everyone has their own political convictions, which can become very apparent from day to day. I have respect for politicians who get involved, but I keep my distance.
Where do you stand politically?
My main passion is the economy. I tend to be on the right, even though I don't belong to any party. I know that there are good people in all political currents.
Giroud Vins employs around a hundred people. You haven't made anyone redundant in six months? The current climate must not be favourable to your commercial activities.
I think I've done everything I can to stay on course and avoid having to make people redundant. I hope that the decisions taken will enable all the teams to look forward to a brighter future. On the other hand, I don't think my detractors have given much thought to this kind of potential damage. They have talked about me as if I were a solitary independent, whereas there is a company with real people.
The tax authorities are demanding 9.5 million francs from you. Doesn't this amount put the company at risk?
I cannot comment on this figure at the moment, because the procedure is ongoing and the amount is formally contested by the tax experts. I have every intention of paying all the sums I actually owe. I will fight to save hundreds of jobs in Valais, especially in this economically fragile sector.
What are your plans for the future?
A company director also has to learn from situations like the one I've been going through for the last seven months, and make decisions. You saw that one of them was to hand over the operational side of the business to an experienced and respected management team.
Under pressure from the banks?
And what are you going to do?
Taking a step back, sorting out unfinished business. Then, perhaps, move on to new activities.
How do you respond to accusations of wine blending?
Very few people are aware of the legislation on cutting and assembly. These practices are permitted insofar as they are beneficial to our production. I hope that this case will clarify things a little. The purpose of coupage, also known as vintage or varietal blending, is to improve the quality of the wine, to protect it from oxidation or to ensure consistency in quantity and quality during harvests in order to stabilise the market. These practices are legal throughout the world. In Valais, there is a standard authorising the cutting of up to 15% for marketed grape varieties, in accordance with certain rules. In other cantons, such as Vaud, it's much higher: 40% for certain appellations. These standards are tightly controlled. Between 1,300 and 2,200 comments have been made each year by the Federal Wine Commission in recent years.
Even so, you have improperly cut 350,000 litres of wine.
This figure has been put forward by the media, but it is totally incorrect. The overruns that could not be corrected involved only 5,862 litres. Out of a total volume of more than 30 million litres sold over five years! The disputed volume represents less than 0.02% of our sales. That's what RTS knew and didn't want to say. What's more, these errors mainly concerned excessive blending of vintages, not grape varieties. The detailed figures will be published shortly on my personal website dominique-giroud.com.
And the misuse of the Saint-Saphorin appellation?
I formally deny these accusations. I confidently await the end of the investigation into this case. What I can say is that the complaint that gave rise to this investigation was withdrawn more than two years ago. The courts wanted to verify the origin of the product. In this respect, I can tell you that there has never been any Fendant in Saint-Saphorin as has been falsely claimed.
The Management Committee of the Valais Grand Council has examined your file on the sanctions imposed on you by the Cantonal Chemist. The sanctions were apparently too lenient.
I have always complied with the decisions addressed to me by the cantonal chemist. In fact, the report focused mainly on the role of the cantonal laboratory. I was surprised, however, that I was never summoned during this procedure, as this might have enabled key points to be rectified. For example, the report mentions "less than 5% of irregularities". When in fact it was less than 0.02%! By going back to the sources, such as this report, you can see that the reality is very different from what has been said.
What is your current relationship with the Federal Wine Commission, which reported you to the cantonal laboratory?
I work with the commission and, like all my colleagues in the wine trade, my cellars are regularly inspected. Relations are now clear and professional. All I'm asking for is objective treatment, and I'm fighting to get it.