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Couple sues Ikea to expose spying 'cover-up'

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16:07 CEST+02:00
A Swedish couple who believes Ikea spied on them and is outraged by the company's perceived stonewalling is suing the Swedish furniture giant in an effort to expose the truth.

“We tried to let Ikea voluntarily tell us the truth but they refused. In order to find out the truth, there is no other option but for us to file several lawsuits,” Swede Pascal Denize told The Local.

"Ikea is currently scrambling to cover all this up."

Denize's decision to pursue legal action against Ikea comes in the wake of recent revelations in the French media about efforts by Ikea to spy on staff and customers in France, where Denize and his wife bought a vacation home in 2006.

He claims he has "concrete evidence" in the form of emails and other documentation showing that top Ikea managers in France were behind efforts to "investigate our personal lives".

According to reports in the French press, Ikea France tried to procure police files on customers, among other things.

While labour unions in France have sued Ikea over the spying scandal, Denize and his wife are believed to be the first Ikea customers taking legal action against Ikea for being targeted by the company's spying efforts.

According to Denize, Ikea France allegedly asked for police files on him and his wife over a dispute they had with Ikea after furniture they purchased for their vacation home was never delivered.

When the couple's sizeable order failed to turn up as promised on December 15th, 2006, Denize entered into what became a protracted battle with Ikea over reimbursement for the late delivery.

Stuck with a house, but no furniture, the couple was forced to spend Christmas in a nearby bed and breakfast.

In addition, family and friends who had been promised the chance to spend their holidays at the couple's brand new vacation home in the north of France had to cancel their plans.

“We were, to say the least, pissed at Ikea,” said Denize.

While the furniture was finally delivered after two months of waiting, Denize continued to pursue reimbursement, emailing a top manager at Ikea France as well as representatives with Ikea in Sweden.

A representative of Ikea France eventually emailed Denize demanding that discussions about a possible settlement be continued over the phone or in person.

The gist of what he communicated to the couple was that Ikea no longer wanted to pay what they had promised, according to Denize.

“When we refused to meet him in person or talk on the phone, saying we wanted everything in writing, he became rude and dismissive,” he said.

The couple spent months emailing back and forth with Ikea.

“He threatened us with lawyers, he was rude, derogatory and outright mean and bullying,” said Denize.

Eventually, in August 2007 the couple received half of the promised sum from Ikea.

Despite not wanting to accept the offer, the couple were tired and sad and felt threatened enough by the company to finally give in and accept the reduced sum.

Denize and his wife had put the matter behind them until late February of this year when French media reports surfaced alleging that Ikea had accessed secret police files in order to spy on employees and customers starting in 2003.

Much to their disbelief, the couple learned that, at the height of their dispute with the company, high ranking officials from Ikea France had ordered investigators to pry into their private lives.

The revelations cast a new light on demands that meetings to discuss their dispute in person.

“The more we think about it the more uncomfortable we get and this whole incident is like a bad movie – what was Ikea going to do to us?”

Denize's wife Johanna promptly called Ikea after news of the spying scandal broke to find out just what was going on.

She spoke to Ylva Magnusson, the press officer of the Ikea Group based in Sweden.

Magnusson had previously made statements in the media about the scandal and the couple perceived her as responsible for the investigation of these “incidents”.

According to the couple, Magnusson refused to comment on the matter, and kept referring them to the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP & Affiliates in France which is now in charge of the case.

The couple then called Gregoire Betrou, the contact person at the firm, whose contact details they had been given by Magnusson.

But once they gave their name and reason for calling, Betrou refused to talk on the phone and told them to email any questions, said Denize.

“We immediately emailed him asking what was going on. Who at Ikea had spied on us? Why? Who had access to the information? What had the information been used for?”

The couple has since emailed Betrou and Skadden three times, but have received no response.

As of early April, a month since their first contact with Magnusson and Skadden, they still have not heard a thing.

When The Local contacted Magnusson, she said that she was unwilling to comment on any individual case to protect the privacy of the individuals involved and would therefore not elaborate on her conversation with the couple.

Though she agreed that the internal investigation is taking time she said that it is important that it is allowed to run its course.

“This is a very important investigation and there is a reason it is taking time. It is being done very thoroughly and extensively," Magnusson told The Local.

Story continues below…

She stressed that it is possible for those involved to get in contact with the lawyers at Skadden and theorized that the lack of response could be due to the investigation still being in its early stages.

Repeated messages left by The Local with Gregoire Betrou at Skadden asking for comment were left unanswered.

For Pascal Denize and his wife, however, this may well be too little too late.

Next week, they plan to file a lawsuit against Ikea in France for violating their privacy, with another suit planned for Sweden.

The couple may also sue Ikea in the US, as some of the alleged espionage against them was carried out while they were living in the United States.

The couple are hoping others in their situation will also come forward and not let Ikea make the scandal “go away” by dragging out the investigation.

They want the story to be told.

“We are Swedish. We used to be proud of Ikea and Kamprad," Denize said, in reference to Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad.

"We used to toot their horn, defend their products. Now all we feel is shame”.

Rebecca Martin

Click here to follow Rebecca on Twitter

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