Messier, Bronfman get suspended jail in French Vivendi trial

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A French court on Friday handed media giant Vivendi's ex-boss Jean-Marie Messier a three-year suspended jail term over a scandal that nearly brought down the group in 2002.

It also sentenced Canadian businessman Edgar Bronfman Jr to 15 months suspended and a five-million euro ($6.8 million) fine for insider trading, linked to Vivendi's purchase of his Seagram group's entertainment division.

Messier received the suspended term and a fine of 150,000 euros ($200,000) on charges including embezzlement after he gave himself a 20-million-euro pay-off when he left the group in 2002.

The judges also convicted him of misleading investors about the group's financial health but cleared him of charges of manipulating the company's shares.

Vivendi Universal's former finance head Guillaume Hannezo received a 15-month suspended jail term for insider trading and a fine of 850,000 euros.

Messier was forced out as Vivendi's chief executive and chairman in July 2002 after he gave upbeat reports of the firm's finances when it was actually 35 billion euros in debt after buying companies such as Universal film studios.

In 2004, the French stock market regulator fined him one million euros -- later reduced to 500,000 euros by an appeal court -- for giving inaccurate financial information about Vivendi.

In January 2010, a New York jury ruled that Vivendi recklessly misled investors about the company's finances but Messier himself was cleared in that case.

In Friday's ruling, Messier was also ordered to compensate various minority shareholders. His lawyer Pascal Wilhelm promptly said he would appeal the conviction.

© 2011 AFP

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