This billionaire has made the jaw-dropping revelation that he used to be a hacker who spied on corporations like Renault and on the French president for the secret service.
Billionaire French businessman Xavier Niel, 52, is the co-owner of the Le Monde media group and founder and majority shareholder of the telecoms company Free, which if France’s second biggest internet service provider.
And while his net worth is currently estimated at 6.7 billion USD (5.48 billion GBP), it would appear he also has an interesting past as a computer hacker who spied on car manufacturer Renault and on French President Francois Mitterrand for the French secret service.
Niel admitted in an interview on LCP (‘La Chaine Parlementaire’; ed.: the French parliamentary TV channel) on 17th May on the show ‘Les Grands Entretiens’ (‘The Big Interviews’) that he used to work for the DST (‘Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire’; ed.: the Directorate of Territorial Surveillance) as a hacker.
The DST was a French intelligence agency responsible for counterespionage, counterterrorism and the security of the country against foreign threats. On 1st July 2008, it was merged with the ‘Direction Centrale des Renseignements Generaux’ into the new ‘Direction Centrale du Renseignement Interieur’ (the General Directorate for Internal Security).
During the interview. he said it all started out when he was doing “stupid things” when he “was young”.
Niel said that he stopped his studies and dropped out before being busted as a young man by French cops for cracking Canal+ (a French premium television channel) decoders but instead of charging him they offered him a deal: come and work for us and help us understand how all this new technology works and we will let it go.
The idea was to survey “with other youths” the opportunities that could be afforded thanks to computer piracy.
He told interviewer Guy Lagache, 54, that he readily accepted and soon found himself hacking the country’s entire mobile phone database, which was not admittedly all that big in 1986, and mobile phones were not really anything like the devices on the market today, but it did include the phone of the then-President of France, Francois Mitterand.
He said: “In 1986, I found myself in the press for having hacked the database of French mobile phones, including that of the President of the Republic Francois Mitterrand.”
Smiling like a naughty schoolboy, he also admitted that he had hacked the phone of a former head of French police who was the Minister for Security in then-Prime Minister Jacques Chirac’s government, Robert Pandraud.
He added that the hacking had also targeted “a large French automobile group”, admitting that it was in fact the French car manufacturer Renault.
Asked why he did not continue in that line of work, he replied that he is a businessman and that after the age of 20 or 21, the novelty of it had worn off and he had other things he wanted to focus on in life.
Xavier Niel is currently the 21st richest person in France.
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