Who will win the first legal round between Ceetrus (formerly Immochan), the real estate subsidiary of the Auchan group, and Gares & Connexions, the SNCF subsidiary responsible for stations? Historically associated as part of the transformation of the Gare du Nord, the two parties will meet next Friday September 22 at the Paris commercial court. The latter will render its judgment concerning the first-demand guarantee provided by Ceetrus, the concessionaire forfeited for the renovation project, and called upon by Gares & Connexions in the amount of 47 million euros to finance the work of the “Horizon 2024” renovation program. In other words, the subsidiary of the Auchan group is assigned by the subsidiary of the SNCF on the successful completion of the work. When contacted, neither Ceetrus nor Gares & Connexions wished to comment.
However, everything started well in February 2019. At the time, the SNCF subsidiary and the Auchan subsidiary created a joint venture in the form of a single-operation mixed economy company (Semop) called StatioNord. The latter was then awarded a contract to finance, design, build and operate the shops at Europe’s largest station – 750,000 daily users – for a period of 46 years.
Four years of standoff
Mobilizing 100% private funds from Ceetrus, the latter was to create around ten thousand square meters of leisure, cultural and sporting spaces and expand commercial, office and travel spaces in preparation for the Rugby World Cup. fall 2023 and the Olympic and Paralympic Games in summer 2024.
Except that after giving the green light to the Paris Council, the City makes an about-face at the end of 2019. So much so that in the summer of 2020, work had still not started and StatioNord, a joint venture between the two subsidiaries, announced that it no longer wished to work with Vinci. And to announce to the Gares & Connexions teams that it will now call on Bouygues.
“The budget then soared, going from 389 million euros then to 500 and finally to 700 million euros. The schedule is shifted by two years and it becomes impossible to finish for the Olympic and Paralympic Games,” recalls a source close to the matter.
In November 2020, an amicable agreement was finally reached between local elected officials and Gares & Connexions, pushing the SNCF subsidiary to return to the charge in the summer of 2021. It then instructs its concessionaire to respect the budget and the schedule. In response, StatioNord indicates that the schedule could be optimized by closing four lanes…
Disqualification for fault
This is too much for Gares & Connexions which, on September 21, 2021, put an end to the operation by terminating the concession, citing “disqualification due to fault” And “a real dysfunction in project management”. Majority shareholder (66%) of the joint venture, Ceetrus then reacted by declaring “regrets the manifest failure of its partner to fulfill its responsibilities as co-shareholder and the loyalty required between the partners of a joint venture since it is fully involved in the realization of the project and in all related decisions from its origin.
As the judgment approaches, a source close to the case is still surprised that the SNCF subsidiary, co-shareholder with 34% of Semop, accuses the Auchan subsidiary of not transmitting documentation, knowing that the The operator sat on the management board, precisely because of his capacity as a shareholder. Another says that Gares & Connexions asked thirty-five times for the operations schedule and that the role of the personalities seconded to StatioNord was to ensure technical control before playing to the eye of Moscow.
Still, the railway company entity is focusing on lighter work, which it presented at a public meeting on October 17, 2022 at the town hall of the 10th arrondissement. In the presence of Alexandra Cordebard (the socialist district mayor), David Belliard (Anne Hidalgo’s EELV deputy responsible for the transformation of public space), two executives from the subsidiary of the railway company presented the work to come by May 2024, shortly before the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The legal aspect is not finished…
In the document presented that evening, Gares & Connexions insists on “a station that is more readable and fluid, more comfortable, greener and more open to the city” And “improving the station’s connection with the City’s public spaces”, on the square, on the taxi and VTC service, on the bus station and on soft mobility. It is clear on site that the signage has been improved.
In the meantime, on February 6, a new file entitled “ Complete expert report at the request of the company Gare du Nord 2024 » was added to the pile of files currently under investigation. Its author, the mediator François Pinchon, who presents himself in particular as the honorary president of the company of experts approved by the Court of Cassation, declares to have written this explosive 120-page report warning of serious risks “on the basis of the documents provided to it but without any contact with the licensor”. A method and conclusions contested by Gares & Connexions which points to a document “sponsored and paid for by Ceetrus (Auchan, editor’s note), concessionaire deposed by the SNCF”.
Because after the commercial court, the legal saga will not be over. Since June 2022, the subsidiaries of Auchan and SNCF are each claiming from the other nearly 300 million euros for expenses incurred and damages. According to our information, the investigation by the Paris Administrative Court will close on October 31. See you in the second half of 2024 for a new audience…