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France court convicts former Vivendi bosses of misleading investors, insider trading

A Paris criminal court on Friday convicted former Vivendi SA [corporate website] chairman and CEO Jean-Marie Messier of misleading investors during his tenure at the helm of the French entertainment giant. Canadian Edgar Bronfman Jr., former vice-chairman of Vivendi and current Warner Music Group chairman and CEO, was convicted of insider trading and fined five million euros. Both Messier and Bronfman received suspended prison sentences [Reuters report] of three years and 15 months respectively. Messier embarked on a monolithic acquisition spree from 1996 to 2002, which transformed a French water utility, Generale des Eaux, into a massive multimedia conglomerate [AP report]. Messier was forced out in 2002 after giving upbeat reports about Vivendi finances while the company was struggling to avoid collapse under 35 billion euros in debt [BBC report]. Vivendi shares dropped more than 80 percent in value as the company amassed debt. Both Messier and Bronfman have indicated they intend to appeal the conviction.

Last January, a fedearl jury in New York found Vivendi liable on 57 counts of violating US federal securities laws [JURIST report] but exonerated Messier. Messier testified that the fall in stock price was not due to securities fraud but because of the economic climate. In 2004, the French stock market regulator fined Messier [Expatica report] one million euros, which was later reduced by an appeals court to 500,00 euros. In 2003, Vivendi paid a $50 million fine to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) [official website] to settle the complaint. Messier paid a $1 million fine and agreed to give up his claim to a 20 million euro severance payment. Vivendi had previously sued Messier [JURIST report] to recover the severance payment, claiming that board members had been coerced by Messier into signing off on the payment, but later withdrew its lawsuit as part of the settlement with the SEC.

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