Former Vivendi boss begins appeal in Paris court

Reuters

PARIS, Oct 28 (Reuters) - Jean-Marie Messier, the formerboss of Vivendi who drove the media-and-telecom groupto the brink of bankruptcy, began his appeal on Monday against a2010 conviction for embezzlement and giving misleadinginformation to shareholders.

A Paris criminal court handed Messier a three-year suspendedsentence and fined him 150,000 euros ($206,900) in the case.

The appeal is expected to last five weeks.

Messier, who now runs a boutique investment bank in Paris,led Vivendi a decade ago during the heady days of the Internetbubble. He became a symbol of corporate hubris when he nearlybankrupted the former utilities group with a massive acquisitionspree.

Later, a class-action lawsuit in the United States and acriminal case in France were filed against Messier and severalother Vivendi executives and board members, alleging that theymisled investors about the financial strength of the group.

In the French criminal case against Messier, Vivendi was notdirectly concerned and was actually a plaintiff claimingdamages. The court ordered in 2010 that 1.2 million euros indamages be paid to a group of individual shareholders.

One of Messier's lawyers, Francis Szpiner, declined tocomment before the appeal began.

In the U.S. class action, a Manhattan federal court juryfound in January 2010 that Vivendi had misled shareholders aboutits financial health between October 2000 and August 2002, whenthe shares lost almost 90 percent of their value.

However, Messier and former financial officer GuillaumeHannezo were not found liable by the jury.

Vivendi is appealing the U.S. class action decision and theamount of damages it could have to pay has still not beendetermined. The group declined to comment on Monday.

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