LOSS-MAKING ONLINE directory Scoot.com has retained a firm of private investigators to find the source of an anonymous 'research dossier' alleging that Scoot has exaggerated the true number of its subscribers [advertisers]. The move was revealed by chief executive Robert Bonnier during a press conference to announce the acquisition of a 14% stake by French utilities and media mammoth Vivendi, which plans to buy a 14% stake in the troubled operation.

Although denying the assertions purportedly made by a disgruntled former employee, Bonnier conceded that they had hurt: 'There is no doubt that these false allegations have been quite damaging, but we have nothing to hide; we have always tried to be as transparent as possible', he said, pointing to rising earnings as proof that the claimed number of subscribers did exist. As ever, Bonnier exuded confidence about future subscriber numbers, forecasting a threefold rise in the current year from 19,000 to 60,000 and to 200,000 by 2003. He did not reveal the bedrock underlying such optimism.

BT has issued a writ against Scoot claiming that its salespeople made 'false and malicious statements' on at least eight occasions, variously telling prospective advertisers that BT-owned rival Talking Pages no longer existed, had been sold to Scoot, or had changed its name to Scoot. Unspecified damages are sought but the matter, according to Bonnier, 'is immaterial' BT and Scoot are dealing with these issues in a professional way.' An out-of-court settlement is likely.