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Vivendi Can Freeze Messier's Severance, Paris Court Rules

Decision paves the way for the company to start legal action in France against its ousted chief.

August 13, 2003|From Associated Press

A Paris commercial court has authorized French media giant Vivendi Universal to suspend payment of a $23.5-million severance package for former Chief Executive Jean-Marie Messier, the company said Tuesday.

Vivendi also said the court authorized it to sue Messier and Eric Licoys, former chief operating officer, to invalidate the severance. The company says its board did not authorize the package, which was signed by Licoys.

In June, a New York arbitration panel ordered Vivendi to pay the severance under the terms of a July 1, 2002, agreement. Vivendi has vowed to find all possible ways of fighting the payment, insisting Messier resigned voluntarily.

Messier and Vivendi are the subjects of numerous lawsuits in France and the United States by small shareholders who, like many Vivendi employees, saw the value of their investment in the company evaporate.

Under Messier, Vivendi led a massive buying spree to try to transform the company into a media and entertainment behemoth that would rival the likes of AOL Time Warner Inc. of the United States.

Vivendi shares lost more than 80% of their value as Messier's empire ran the company into billions of dollars in debt and left it close to bankruptcy protection.

Messier was forced out a year ago. His successor, Jean-Rene Fourtou, has pursued the sale of assets that included Vivendi's publishing unit, Internet holdings and art works in an effort to turn the company around.

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