Vivendi Stock Sale – Was Messier Économique Avec la Vérité?

07 April 2003

Flamboyant former chairman/ceo of Vivendi Universal Jean-Marie Messier, ousted in a palace revolution last July, has consistently denied he sold any of his shares in the company as their price went into freefall during the first half of 2002.

But according to a Vivendi statement filed Thursday with the Commission des Opérations des Bourse (the French stockmarket regulator), Messier has been as économique avec la vérité as he is miserly with the modesty.

The latest filing indicates he sold 231,000 shares worth between €5 million ($5.36m; £3.42m) and €14m prior to his ousting. This conflicts with a filing (last August) when the group stated that no directors had sold shares during the first half of 2002.

According to Vivendi, the August filing was based on directors’ personal declarations: “We sent a letter to all directors, including Mr Messier, asking for details of relevant share dealings. We did not receive any response from Mr Messier requiring a disclosure.”

When questioned less than three months ago about the alleged disposals, Messier was Mr Clean personified: “Shareholders worry about executives making money at their expense,” he protested. “Here it is the exact reverse. I exercised my options at €50, investing all my savings and taking a personal loan of €5.3m to finance it, and I didn’t hedge one of them.”

“I lost most of it with the stock drop and still did not sell one of them in 2002, neither before nor after my stepping down. Here you have an example of a ceo investing in his company with no artifice and showing his confidence in it.”

However, the ebullient former dealmaker was not available for further comment in the wake of the latest disclosure. His uncharacteristic silence may be connected with the “secret inquiry” currently being conducted by COB into all Vivendi’s financial communications during the Messier reign.

Meantime, class action lawyers are licking their lips following the filing last week of a lawsuit by US-based Vivendi stockholder Liberty Media. This accuses Messier and others of “outright fraud, misrepresentation and concealment”.

Data sourced from: Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff