Global Business

Vivendi Knocked for “Aggressive” Accounting

One-time wunderkind Jean-Marie Messier made a mess of the books, investigators charge.
Stephen TaubJanuary 3, 2008

French financial investigators are bitterly criticizing the accounting practices of Vivendi Universal during the years it was run by CEO Jean-Marie Messier, Agence France Presse reported, citing a story in the financial daily La Tribune.

According to the French wire service, a report the investigators prepared for prosecutors cites “aggressive” bookkeeping involving “sophisticated legal and financial engineering.”

The investigation was launched in 2002 after a group of small investors registered a complaint. Messier was forced to resign that year from the French media and telecommunications giant.

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In 2005, Messier was reportedly fined one million euros by France’s stock market regulator for failing to properly inform the market and shareholders between 2000 and 2002. The fine was reduced to 500,000 euros on appeal. Vivendi was fined one million euros, which was subsequently cut to 300,000 euros, according to Agence France Presse.

Back in 2001, Messier was named by Timemagazine and CNN as one of the 25 most influential global executives.

“Put an ambitious, cosmopolitan French banker in charge of a 148-year-old French water company, and you get … a global-media megalith called Vivendi Universal, with telecom and cable assets in Europe; TV, movie and music studios on both sides of the Atlantic; and theme parks in the U.S. and Japan,” the publication wrote at the time. “Internet maven Messier, 44, may have racked up too much debt on his recent acquisition binge. But Vivendi posted a 30 percent jump in third-quarter cash flow, thanks much more to subscriptions than advertising. Just like in the water business.”