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Former Vivendi chief Messier goes on trial in Paris

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2010-06-02

Almost eight years after being ousted from the presidency of Vivendi Universal, Jean-Marie Messier is being asked to explain his actions as head of the French media giant as his trial opens in Paris.

Almost eight years after he was ousted from the presidency of Vivendi Universal, Jean-Marie Messier is answering for his actions as head of the media and communications giant as his trial opens in Paris.

Messier, 53, appeared at court with his wife on Wednesday to stand trial along with six other high-ranking Vivendi officials and members of the firm’s financial establishment. On the docket is a raft of allegations charging that, beginning in 2000 and under Messier's leadership, officials embezzled money as they sought to transform the former French water utility into a global media giant.

Messier gave glowing reports of the company’s financial results before the markets discovered that the company was actually €35 billion in debt, a revelation that led to Messier’s July 2002 resignation.

The former blue-chip company of the Paris CAC 40 will have to answer to three main charges: the dissemination of false or misleading information, stock-price manipulation and the misuse of corporate assets.

The latter charge involves a €20.5 million golden parachute that Messier granted himself before leaving the group without the approval of the board of directors. He gave up the fund at the end of 2003.   

Messier was fined €1 million euros, later reduced to €500,000 on appeal, by the French stock market regulator in 2004 for providing inaccurate financial information about the company.

Messier’s will be the first dossier addressed by the court, which is expected to make a decision by June 25. He faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to €375,000 euros.  

Vivendi shareholders, who pushed for the French criminal investigation that led to the charges against company officials, are hoping to be awarded significant damages.     
 
Last January a jury in New York found Vivendi liable in a securities class action suit but exonerated Messier of any responsibility.  
 
Among the defendants is businessman Edgar Bronfman Jr., the heir to one of Canada’s best-known corporate dynasties, the Seagram group. Bronfman stands accused of insider trading in connection with his role as a Vivendi vice chairman, a post he acquired following the media conglomerate’s 2000 purchase of Seagram’s entertainment division.

The others facing trial are Guillaume Hannezo, formerly the company's chief financial officer; ex-treasurer Hubert Dupont-Lhotelain; former assistant treasurer François Blondet; former managing director Eric Licoys; and Philippe Guez, the one-time president of a branch of Deutsche Bank.

Date created : 2010-06-02

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