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Jury rules Vivendi misled investors, but former chairman cleared

A US jury has ruled that French media giant Vivendi misled investors about the company's financial position, but former Vivendi chairman and chief executive Jean-Marie Messier was cleared by the jury.


AFP - A US jury ruled Friday that French media giant Vivendi recklessly misled investors about the company's financial position, opening the door to a potential multibillion dollar payout to shareholders.

But former Vivendi chairman and chief executive Jean-Marie Messier was cleared along with his chief financial officer Guillaume Hannezo by the jury which had been deliberating over two weeks 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.

The class-action lawsuit brought in US federal court had sought as much as 11.5 billion dollars to compensate shareholders.

Lead plaintiff attorney Arthur Abbey said the jury decision could result in a payout of some four billion dollars after shareholder claims are examined.

Vivendi attorney Paul Saunders said the company would appeal the decision.

Vivendi said in a statement it "strongly disagrees with the findings against the company, which the company believes are contrary to the facts and the law, in particular with respect to an alleged hidden liquidity risk."

The company said the amount of damages that Vivendi may be required to pay "remains uncertain and will be known at a later and as yet undetermined stage."

The verdict calculates the damages on a per-share and per-day basis and "it is impossible to know at this time the total number of shares traded by class members, the dates of the relevant sales and the number of class members who will submit a valid claim after receiving notice of the decision," Vivendi said.

"Vivendi intends to pursue all available paths of action to overturn the verdict," the company statement said.

The case stems from a huge boom and bust in Vivendi, which went on a massive acquisition spree under Messier's leadership as it transformed itself from a water utility to a global media giant.

The company changed its name to Vivendi Universal after a complex deal that allowed it to acquire US-based Universal Studios and other properties to refocus the group.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs said Vivendi and Messier failed to disclose risks associated with the growth spree that led to big losses and writedowns.

Company attorneys argued that Vivendi, like other firms, saw its share price hammered during the collapse of the tech sector and the economic fallout following the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.

Vivendi, which later 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, entertainment firm Canal-Plus along with other operations around the world.

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