Messier in fresh Vivendi fraud trial

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Former Vivendi boss Jean-Marie Messier went on trial on Wednesday to face accusations that he engaged in corporate fraud as he transformed the French water utility into a global media giant.

He is accused of issuing false or misleading financial statements, manipulating share prices and misusing corporate assets in the 2000-2002 period when the firm went on a massive takeover spree.

Messier, who had to leave Vivendi Universal in July 2002 after the company lost 13.6 billion euros, faces up to five years in prison and heavy fines if found guilty.

Five other people are on trial alongside Messier on related charges in a case expected to last about four weeks.

They include Edgar Bronfman Jr, the head of Warner Music Group and a former Vivendi vice-chairman, who will be tried for insider trading following Vivendi's purchase of the media assets of Seagram, the Canadian group he inherited.

In January a US jury ruled that Vivendi recklessly misled investors about the company's finances, opening the door to a potential multibillion dollar payout to shareholders.

But Messier was cleared along with his chief financial officer Guillaume Hannezo -- who is also on trial in Paris this week -- by a jury which had deliberated over two weeks in the shareholder lawsuit.

Vivendi and Messier had been accused of making false statements about company finances between 2000 and 2002, before a collapse of the group's share price in the lawsuit charging "recklessly misleading communication."

The class-action lawsuit brought in US federal court in 2002 had sought as much as 11.5 billion dollars to compensate shareholders.

© 2010 AFP

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