Former Vivendi executives in share fraud probe

29th March 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 29 (AFP) - A magistrate probing accounting at the French media and telecom group Vivendi Universal before its near-collapse in 2002 has placed two former financial executives and a German banking official under investigation, legal sources said on Monday.

PARIS, March 29 (AFP) - A magistrate probing accounting at the French media and telecom group Vivendi Universal before its near-collapse in 2002 has placed two former financial executives and a German banking official under investigation, legal sources said on Monday.

The sources said that the judge had put Hubert Dupont-Lhotelain, company treasurer at the time, and his deputy Francois Blondet under investigation for manipulating the share price.

The chairman of Deutsche Bank's Deutche Equities, Philippe Guez, was also put under investigation and is under EUR 500,000 (USD 410,000) bail, a court source said.

Two magistrates are investigating complaints by an association of small French shareholders that Vivendi published false accounts for 2000 and 2001 and published false or misleading information on the group's prospects in 2001 and 2002.

The Vivendi group, originally a utilities business, diversified rapidly to become an international media giant under French chairman Jean-Marie Messier.

But as the high-tech "bubble" began to burst it became apparent that Vivendi had become a sprawling conglomerate with an unsustainable debt load acquired through takeovers.

The price of Vivendi shares plunged as the group came close to collapse. Messier was sacked and the group has spent the last 18 months restructuring and selling assets to reduce debt.

© AFP

                                         Subject: French news

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