French judicial authorities are probing Vivendi Universal and its controversial ex-boss Jean-Marie Messier over alleged accounting malpractice.

The public prosecutor in Paris has appointed two judges to investigate whether the media mammoth, in a bid to prop up its share price, issued incorrect balance sheets for 2000 and 2001, and untrue or deceptive data in its forecasts for 2001 and 2002.

Such allegations are not new – the inquiry follows a civil complaint about Vivendi’s financial reporting by a French shareholder group named APPAC. France’s stock market regulator is also investigating the company’s books, while a class-action lawsuit has been launched in the US over similar claims.

“[The investigation] is a first victory for the small shareholders who have been ruined,” declared APPAC president Didier Cornardeau. “In addition, we want the current directors of Vivendi Universal to take a position in relation to this complaint.”

Vivendi stated it would co-operate fully with the investigation, while Messier’s lawyer insisted the probe would “show that not only were the accounts exact but that the financial information was complete and transparent.”

Data sourced from: multiple sources; additional content by WARC staff