Angry shareholders in Vivendi Universal are demanding that current and former company executives pay a fine levied on the firm by US regulators.

A lawsuit filed in a Parisian court by French investment group APPAC argues that the media mammoth should not have to meet the $50 million (€40m; £28m) civil penalty recently imposed by America's Securities & Exchange Commission.

The shareholder group believes the payout, plus $4m Vivendi must hand to controversial ex-ceo Jean-Marie Messier to cover legal costs, punishes the company (and therefore its shareholders) when certain employees are to blame. It therefore wants these executives to pay the fine out of their own pockets.

The SEC imposed the penalty last month under a settlement with Vivendi and Messier over claims of accounting fraud during the latter's spell as chief executive. This agreement saw the regulator drop its investigation and Messier abandon his claim to €20.5m in severance pay [WAMN: 26-Dec-03]. Proceeds from the deal will go into a fund to compensate US shareholders.

APPAC's suit names current ceo Jean-René Fourtou, former chief operating officer Eric Licoys and Messier himself (raising the possibility that he might have to pay his own compensation).

The investment group has also written to Fourtou demanding that he recover €35m paid to one-time Vivendi board member Edgar Bronfman Junior. APPAC argues that this payout -- €25m in a severance package plus €10m in consultancy fees -- was never approved by shareholders, making it illegal under French law.

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