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EDITIONS
 Wednesday, 18 December, 2002, 22:35 GMT
Vivendi sues investor group
Jean-Rene Fourtou
Jean-Rene Fourtou replaced Jean-Marie Messier
Franco-American media giant Vivendi Universal has taken legal action against a shareholder group for allegedly spreading false information about the firm.

Vivendi said the group, small shareholders' lobby Appac, had issued false statements about the firm, including a claim that it was about to be declared insolvent.

"Vivendi Universal considers it had a duty to take legal action in the interests of its shareholders and employees, who should not be the victims of biased misinformation," the company said in a statement.

In July, Appac claimed that Vivendi had put out misleading financial information while former chief executive Jean-Marie Messier was in charge, prompting an investigation by French public prosecutors.

The finance unit of the Paris police raided Vivendi's Paris headquarters last week as part of the inquiry. Mr Messier's residence was also searched.

Penalties

The Appac statements that triggered Vivendi's legal action were issued on the day of the police raid, according to the media giant.

" Vivendi has filed a complaint with the Paris Civil High Court to obtain answers and impose sanctions against all these false accusations," the firm said.

Vivendi, which came close to financial collapse this summer after racking up huge debts in a late 1990s acquisition spree, is also being investigated in the US by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the main stock market regulator.

The firm is currently trying to pay off its debts by selling off some of its assets and aggressively cutting costs.

Mr Messier, who oversaw the Vivendi's transformation from a staid French utility group into the world's second biggest media conglomerate, resigned in July after the firm's share price fell by two thirds in the first six months of the year.

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