UPDATE 1-Board of France's Orange backs company head Richard with new contract


* Board backs renewing Richard's mandate for another four years

* Richard denies charges over Tapie payout affair (Adds detail, background)

PARIS, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Stephane Richard, the head of Orange, was offered a four-year contract extension on Tuesday by the board of France's largest telecoms operator.

Richard, who also serves as Orange's chief executive officer, faces legal charges, which he denies. But Orange said in a statement it was renewing Richard's mandate as a member of its board, in anticipation of renewing his position as chairman of the board.

Shareholders will vote on renewing his mandate at the company's annual general meeting in May, Orange said.

Richard faces charges over payments to businessman Bernard Tapie of about 400 million euros ($494 million) from public funds. The payments were made in 2008, when Richard was chief of staff to Christine Lagarde, then France's finance minister . He denies any wrongdoing.

Last month, Richard got the backing of French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, who said Richard's contract should be renewed. The French state is Orange's biggest shareholder .

In December, Richard told investors that he would invest in upgrading networks rather than in content.

Richard is credited with improving Orange's results in the fiercely competitive French market, where it contends with the likes of Bouygues Telecom, Altice and Iliad .

France's telecoms and media industries face the challenge of dealing with contrasting demands from customers who want both fast Internet services and appealing media content.

($1 = 0.8100 euros) (Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta, editing by Ingrid Melander, Larry King)