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Vivendi Probes Vote Tampering

Media: The firm seeks criminal charges for alleged hacking during shareholders' vote on its stock-option plan.

April 29, 2002|From Bloomberg News

PARIS — Vivendi Universal, the world's second-largest media company, said Sunday it will seek criminal charges against hackers who allegedly tampered with electronic votes at the company's shareholder assembly last week.

Vivendi plans to convene a new meeting to allow shareholders to vote again after suspecting fraud at Wednesday's assembly. The company has called for a board meeting today to set a new date in early June, Vivendi said.

The company's stock-option plan was one of two resolutions unexpectedly voted down at the meeting. Vivendi said it became suspicious after an "unusual level" of abstaining votes from its large shareholders were recorded.

"We had been warned by several big shareholders that the results of the votes sounded a little bit strange to them," Messier said in an interview with Bloomberg News.

Vivendi said it polled some of these shareholders, including Cie. Saint-Gobain, which owns 1.13% in the company, Societe Generale, Credit Agricole and BNP Paribas. It found their votes had systematically and wrongly been recorded as abstentions.

Shareholders at the meeting voted on 19 resolutions. They were given electronic boxes with three switches, to vote yes, no or abstain. Under French law, an abstention is counted as a vote against a proposal.

Vivendi said its "suspicion of a fraud on the votes could have been done by a small team equipped with transmitters and who knew well the details of procedures and technical protocols of electronic votes."

The company said it inspected the material used during its assembly and found no evidence of wrongdoing. It has asked that the material be sealed immediately.

Vivendi will transfer its dividend, about $900 million, to a blocked bank account. The dividend must be approved during a shareholder meeting. It was due to be paid on May 13, the company said.

Colette Neuville, a shareholder activist, said Saturday in an interview that she will ask the Paris Court of Commerce to appoint an expert to examine the computer hard drives storing the votes.

The meeting, attended by about 5,000 investors in Paris' Zenith concert hall, prompted considerable attention in the French press after the ouster of Pierre Lescure, one of Canal Plus' founders and its chief executive.

It was Messier's toughest assembly since he took over the company in 1996.

Shareholders rejected proposals to allow the board to grant options on as many as 5% of Vivendi's shares and sell stock worth as much as $2.7 billion.

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