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U.S. Attorney's Office In N.Y., SEC Investigate Vivendi

Nov 4, 2002 | Wall Street Journal

Officials in New York and Florida are investigating French media giant Vivendi Universal SA, the company said Monday, promising to cooperate fully in the inquiries.

The U.S. Attorney's office for the southern district of New York has opened a preliminary criminal investigation, while the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's Miami office has been carrying out an informal inquiry, Vivendi said.

The company said the SEC's Miami office will coordinate its activities with the U.S. attorney's investigation.

The subject of the probes wasn't clear, and Vivendi provided no further details. A spokesman didn't immediately return a call seeking comment.

Prosecutors in Paris last week opened an investigation into whether the company, under its former chairman Jean-Marie Messier, misled investors and falsified financial reports to boost its shares. That investigation was prompted by a complaint filed by French shareholders who allege the company deliberately misled investors into buying or holding Vivendi's stock.

The probe by the Paris prosecutor's office is in addition to a separate investigation launched in July by France's stock-market watchdog, Commission des Operations de Bourse. Like the prosecutor's office, the COB is examining the accuracy of Vivendi's financial communications under Mr. Messier.

The COB is also looking into ivendi's handling of a complicated October 2001 transaction involving shares in British pay-TV operator British Sky Broadcasting Group PLC (BSY), according to people familiar with the matter.

American stockholders also filed a complaint.

Vivendi's board ousted Mr. Messier was ousted in early July, shortly before the company disclosed a liquidity crisis. The executive's numerous acquisitions left the conglomerate, owner of Universal Studios and Universal Music Group, reeling under mountain of debt totaling some 19 billion euros ($18.94 billion).

Mr. Messier was replaced by Jean-Rene Fourtou, who is working to chip away at the debt Vivendi racked up under Mr. Messier's aggressive expansion strategy.

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