The former chairman and chief executive of Vivendi Universal, Jean-Marie Messier, ousted in a palace revolution last July, admitted Thursday he had indeed sold shares in the ailing media giant [WAMN: 07-Apr-03] – but not, he insists, while the group was sliding towards its near collapse in 2002.

Messier, known not unaffectionately to the French press as J6M (Jean-Marie Messier, Moi Meme Maitre du Monde), has been accused by his former employer of unloading the shares last year, and a statement to this effect appears in its annual report for 2002.

Not so, says Messier, who claims that he sold the 258,669 Vivendi Universal shares in December 2001. He sold these to help to repay a loan of €5 million taken previously to buy Vivendi stock, and – according to a statement from his lawyers – then reinvested the proceeds in more Vivendi shares. Messiers attributes the late recording of the transaction to “a banking delay”.

Although not an eye-watering stash of stock, some analysts say that Vivendi’s [then] share price would have suffered had the sale come to light at the time. “From a sentiment perspective, if you knew the ceo was selling shares in his own company, that wouldn’t have been viewed as a positive thing,” opined an entrail-raker at Bear Stearns.

Vivendi, red-facedly, admits it still seeks an explanation as to the non-disclosure in its 2001 accounts of Messier’s stock sale, claiming it learned of this only on Tuesday.

Data sourced from: Times Online (UK); additional content by WARC staff