Emmanuel Macron has carried out a discreet ceremony to give the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, the Légion d’honneur at the Elysée Palace while hundreds of thousands of workers protested across France over changes to pensions.
The French president presented the country’s highest honour in front of a number of VIP guests and influential business leaders last Thursday, when there was a day of industrial action against Macron’s plan to raise the retirement age to 64.
The Guardian has been told Bezos was designated a member of the Legion d’Honneur about 10 years ago – before Macron entered the Elysée – so the ceremony was to hand over the ribboned medal he should have received then but had not collected.
The ceremony was not announced by the Elysée or put in the president’s official diary because it was considered a private occasion, and the date was organised with the Bezos family to coincide with when he was in Paris. Around 300 foreigners are admitted to the Legion d’honneur every year.
The revelation by the news magazine Le Point has caused anger in France where Macron has been branded the “president of the rich” by leftwing critics. Bezos is the world’s third-richest person, behind the Tesla chief executive, Elon Musk. The top spot is held by the French billionaire Bernard Arnault, the president-director general of the luxury group LVMH, who attended Thursday’s ceremony.
Le Point described the event, attended by “only a few hand-picked guests”, as “sumptuous but confidential”. The event was not listed in the regular updates to the press detailing Macron’s engagements. A photograph published by the conservative magazine showed Bezos in a pale suit chatting to Macron.
Opponents of the government’s bitterly contested changes to the country’s pension system accused Macron of mocking them.
Manon Aubry, of the leftwing La France Insoumise (LFI), or Unbowed France, tweeted: “Context: record CAC40 [French stock exchange] profits, inflation, massive demonstrations against the reform of pensions … Macron’s bright idea: decorate the boss of Amazon Jeff Bezos … with the Legion of Honour.”
François Piquemal, an MP for LFI, tweeted: “Always and forever, everything for the rich, nothing for the people.”
The fiercest reaction came from those most invested in opposing the pension and retirement changes. Fabien Roussel, the national secretary of the French Communist party, said: “The president’s doctrine: punish the French, reward the billionaires.”
A member of the Elysée press office said: “I have no information about this.”