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Utility boss defends wage hike

GDF Suez Deputy Chief Executive Jean-Francois Cirelli yesterday defended the manner in which the French electricity and natural gas utility shares out its profits, after his 180-percent salary increase re-ignited the debate over executive compensation in France.

Cirelli's salary soared to 1.3 million euros (US$1.7 million) last year from 460,000 euros in 2007, following the merger of Gaz de France with Suez. Cirelli had been chief executive of state-controlled GDF and became deputy CEO of the much larger GDF Suez following the merger. The French government remains the group's largest shareholder with 35.7 percent.

"If you look at how the value created by the company is divided, you'll see that in the 2008 earnings, 11 billion (euros) went to employees, 11 billion went for investment and 5 billion went to shareholders," Cirelli told reporters. "It seems to me that GDF Suez's division of the value created by company is very reasonable."

Asked whether the debate over his raise was justified, Cirelli said "Everyone can have an opinion, I don't want to get into it."

Executive compensation has become a hot-button issue in France, with the heads of banks and auto makers recently forced to give up bonuses and stock options after they received financial aid from the French government.

Last month GDF Suez, which did not receive a state bailout from the French government and posted rising profits last year, said Cirelli and GDF Suez CEO Gerard Mestrallet had returned stock options that they had been given last year.


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