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Vivendi Probe Deepens

Nov 4, 2002 | Shares in Vivendi Universal fell Monday on news that the feds had opened a criminal investigation involving the company.

The "preliminary" investigation, as Vivendi describes it, is being conducted by the U.S. attorney's office for the Southern District of New York in coordination with an informal inquiry of Vivendi already underway at the Miami office of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Shares in Vivendi fell as much as 7% Monday following Vivendi's latest disclosure. That initial drop duplicated the shares' decline last month after Reuters reported that a French prosecutor would likely open up an investigation into past public statements by the Paris-based media, telecommunications and utility conglomerate.

On Monday afternoon, Vivendi's shares recovered somewhat to trade at $12.18, down 2.4% for the day.

Though Vivendi didn't specify the subject of the U.S. investigation, the focus of the French inquiry was reported to be public statements made by Vivendi's former CEO Jean-Marie Messier.

Messier, who had attempted to transform Vivendi from a water company into an international media conglomerate with the purchases of a music studio, a movie studio and various publishing assets, left the company earlier this year amid allegations that he had overstated the financial health of the media empire he was building.

Since Messier's departure, his replacement, Jean-Rene Fourtou, has labored to cut debt and re-establish Vivendi's financial footing. Last week, for example, Vivendi announced it would sell the Houghton Mifflin publishing operation it bought only last year.

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