Jean-Marie Messier, the controversial chief executive of Vivendi Universal, is laughing all the way to the bank as shareholders in the Franco-US giant weep into their champagne over the largest loss in French corporate history.

According to the group’s latest SEC filing, Messier collected a €5.12m ($4.81m; £3.29m) salary and bonus paycheck last year as his reward for presiding over a widened Q1 loss of €17.01 billion or €16.52 a share.

But Messier was only sixth in line at the trough. His remuneration package lagged behind five Americans, Vivendi admitted on Tuesday.

The lion’s share of the booty went to Edgar Bronfman Jr, who collected around $18m of shareholders’ money when he quit his executive responsibilities in March, his contract entitling him to a pay-off worth three times his $5.87m base salary and bonus; pro rata compensation for 2002; and the immediate vesting of share options.

Bronfman remains vice-chairman of Vivendi, as well as “special adviser” until December 2004. The terms of his consulting work are private. He also co-chairs Vivendi’s new board-level oversight committee alongside Marc Viénot, a former chairman of Société Générale – a move designed as a sop to mounting shareholder disquiet over the group’s corporate governance.

Asks Colette Neuville, president of shareholder rights group ADAM: “Why is it only now, when Vivendi is in such a parlous state that the board appears to be waking up to its responsibilities? The governance of this company is a catastrophe and the problem won’t be solved by committee.”

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