High drama is usually waiting in the wings when Vivendi Universal chief executive Jean-Marie Messier is onstage. Friday was no exception,

Within two days of Wednesday’s tumultuous annual general meeting in Paris, Vivendi said it would convene another meeting of shareholders, claiming that there had been “fraudulent manipulation” of the electronic voting system.

At the meeting in a 5,000-seat Paris auditorium, shareholders voted on the various motions via remote hand-held devices. Following the vote it was noted that the number of abstentions was unusually high prompting the company to claim that “fraudulent manipulation” had occurred.

According to a Vivendi statement: “Checks of the votes made electronically during the April 24 AGM indicate a systematic malfunction of the voting machines of the main shareholders. This malfunction very likely stems from a hacking into the voting system. This manipulation of the voting makes it necessary to hold another AGM in order to collect, in reliable conditions, shareholder votes on resolutions put forward. This new meeting will be called as quickly as possible.”

At the meeting, Messier was assailed by a volley of criticism at his handling of the Lescure/Canal Plus affair, his allegedly egotistical management style and Vivendi’s collapsed share price. However, the resultant ballot did not support the legion of calls for his resignation.

But on Thursday morning, a number of senior Vivendi executives instigated an investigation as to why votes of abstention at the meeting amounted to 20% compared with the two to three per cent recorded at the 2001 AGM. Furthermore, a number of institutional investors contacted on behalf of Vivendi told the company they had voted in favour of resolutions which had been logged electronically as abstentions.

The probe indicated that computer hackers had infiltrated the electronic ballot, managed on Vivendi’s behalf by French bank BNP/Paribas. The outcome of all shareholder resolutions at the meeting are now null and void – including one which asked shareholders to ratify Messier’s controversial firing of Canal Plus founder and chief executive Pierre Lescure. The debacle has resulted in the restitution of Lescure as a director of the Vivendi Universal main board pending a new ballot of shareholders.

Vivendi executives also plan to file a suit against the alleged hackers, despite the fact that they currently have “not the faintest idea” of their identity.

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