Former Vivendi boss Jean Marie Messier, who faces charges of embezzlement and misleading the stock market, told a French court on Wednesday that he acted in the best interests of the company. If convicted, he faces up to five years in jail.
AFP- Ex-Vivendi boss Jean-Marie Messier, on trial for fraud, on Wednesday blamed a "perfect storm" of the dotcom crash, 9-11 attacks and the Enron scandal for pushing the global media firm close to collapse.
Messier is accused of misleading the stock market, manipulating share prices and misusing corporate funds in the 2000-2002 period when Vivendi, previously a sleepy French water utility, went on a massive takeover spree.
The flamboyant 53-year-old, once a star of the business world who was seen as an example of a new spirit of enterprise taking hold in France, faces up to five years in prison and 350,000 euros in fines if convicted.
Messier was forced out as CEO and chairman of Vivendi in July 2002 after he gave upbeat reports of the firm's finances when in reality it was 35 billion euros in debt after buying up companies such as Universal film studios.
He was being tried in a Paris court along with Warner Music head Edgar Bronfman Jr and other former Vivendi executives who face related charges in a case set to end on June 25, with a verdict due by the end of the year.
Messier, who last year published a book blaming greedy banks and speculators for the financial crisis, told the court he had simply acted in the best interests of the company.
"We were seeking to forge alliances to develop content and acquire an international dimension," said the entrepeneur, who wore a dark suit and red tie.
"Was this vision the right one? Today I still believe in it," he said, while admitting that there had been "mistakes, without doubt," in carrying out that strategy.
But above all, he argued, his strategy was stymied by what he called a "sort of perfect storm."
This was a combination of events of 2001 that included the dotcom crash, the terror attacks on US cities on September 11 and the Enron bankruptcy, one of the biggest corporate scandals in US history.
Vivendi's difficulties were compounded by feuding between US and French investors in the company, said Messier, who like the others on trial here denies the charges against him.
In January a New York jury ruled that Vivendi recklessly misled investors about the company's finances, opening the door to a potential multibillion dollar payout to shareholders.
But Messier himself was cleared along with his chief financial officer Guillaume Hannezo -- who is also on trial in Paris this week -- in the shareholder lawsuit.
Vivendi and Messier had been accused of making false statements about company finances between 2000 and 2002, before a collapse of the group's share price, in the lawsuit charging "recklessly misleading communication."
The class-action lawsuit brought in a US federal court in 2002 had sought as much as 11.5 billion dollars to compensate shareholders.
The Paris trial is the result of a criminal inquiry begun in 2002 after individual French investors lodged a complaint. Vivendi itself is a civil plaintiff in the case and may decide to seek compensation, its lawyers said.
The charge of misusing corporate assets partly relates to Messier's failed attempt to award himself a golden handshake worth 20.5 million euros when he left the firm.
Five other former Vivendi executives and a former bank executive are on trial alongside Messier.
Bronfman, the heir to one of Canada's leading corporate dynasties, is on trial for insider trading following Vivendi's purchase of the entertainment division of Seagram, the Canadian group he inherited.
Messier was fined one million euros -- later reduced to 500,000 euros by an appeal court -- by the French stock market regulator in 2004 for giving inaccurate financial information about Vivendi.
Vivendi, which sold a controlling stake in Universal to General Electric's NBC, still controls video game giant Activision Blizzard, Universal Music Group, French telecom giant SFR and entertainment firm Canal Plus along with other operations around the world.
Date created : 2010-06-03