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EDITIONS
Thursday, 12 December, 2002, 11:53 GMT
Investigators raid Vivendi offices
Jean-Rene Fourtou
Jean-Rene Fourtou replaced Jean-Marie Messier
Investigators probing alleged financial irregularities by Franco-American media giant Vivendi Universal have raided the firm's Paris headquarters.

The authorities are looking into allegations that the company published false financial information in an effort to boost its share price while former chief executive Jean-Marie Messier was in charge.

The investigators also carried out a search of Mr Messier's Paris residence, according to reports.

Mr Messier stepped down in July, and has been replaced by Jean-Rene Fourtou.

A Vivendi spokesman said the company was co-operating fully with the inquiry.

News of the raid pushed Vivendi shares down 0.7% to 16.07 euros in afternoon trade on the Paris stock exchange.

Accounting claims

The inquiry into Vivendi's accounts began in October after a group of minority shareholders alleged that the firm put out misleading information on its prospects for 2001 and 2002.

The shareholders also claimed that the company had published false balance sheets in 2000 and 2001.

The allegations, which carried echoes of high profile accounting scandals at Enron and Worldcom in the US, unnerved investors.

The media giant is facing two further investigations in the US - one by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the US stock market regulator, and a second by the US Attorney for the southern district of New York.

Vivendi, which racked up billions of euros in debt to fund a late 1990s acquisition spree, is trying to shore up its shaky finances by selling assets and aggressively cutting costs.

The firm came close to collapse in the summer, prompting a steep slump in its share price.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Valerie Jones
"He turned Vivendi into an international media and telecom giant"
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