After that, Ikea “tried to prevent more strikes by turning to a system of espionage,” said Vincent Lecourt, a lawyer for one of the store’s French unions. Ikea managers set up a surveillance net to gather information to fire Mr. Amara and curb militant union activity, plaintiffs’ lawyers said.

GSG, a French security company hired by Mr. Paris, advised Ikea to set a “legal trap” for Mr. Amara, and sent one of its agents to pose as a cashier, court documents showed. The mole infiltrated workers’ ranks, reporting conversations with Mr. Amara and his wife, also an Ikea employee, while spying on a number of other union activists.

“Their plan was to infiltrate the unions and explode them from the inside,” Mr. Lecourt said.

Mr. Paris also hired a bodyguard disguised as an administrative assistant with the goal, he testified, of protecting officials who claimed that Mr. Amara had harassed them. Mr. Amara was later found liable by a criminal judge for moral harassment after Ikea France filed a complaint.

Mr. Daoud, Ikea France’s lawyer, said there was no proof of the unions’ allegations. “There was no hunting down of union members,” he said.

That claim has not doused a sense of injustice among workers who said they were forever marked by the moment they learned their employer was spying on them.

Soon after Ikea fired Mr. Amara in 2011, he said in an interview, a USB stick was delivered to his home by a person who refused to identify himself, containing the explosive email trove that became the basis of the lawsuit.

The documents included receipts of nearly €1 million for surveillance operations, as well as a 55-page internal report on Mr. Amara’s union activities, personal situation and legal records dating to when he was a teenager. There were lists naming hundreds of job applicants and employees to undergo undisclosed checks, as well as the orders to investigate some customers.

“That’s when I understood that Ikea was spying this whole time, and that it was a regular practice,” Mr. Amara said. “It was absolutely surreal.”

Mr. Amara said he took the USB stick to French news outlets, he said, unleashing the media firestorm around Ikea France that led to police investigations and the current trial.

“Ikea acted as if it was all powerful over its employees,” he said.

“If Ikea hadn’t been exposed,” he added, “it would have just kept going.”

Gaëlle Fournier contributed reporting.

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