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Vivendi ordered to pay Liberty Media $950 million

June 25, 2012|By Meg James
  • A jury in New York has ordered the media company Vivendi to pay about $950 million to Liberty Media. Above, a bicyclist rides past Vivendi's headquarters in Paris.
A jury in New York has ordered the media company Vivendi to pay about $950… (Fabrice Dimier / Bloomberg )

The French media company Vivendi has vowed to appeal the verdict of a federal jury that determined it must pay the American media conglomerate Liberty Media about $950 million in a dispute that dates back to Vivendi's 2002 financial collapse.

Liberty Media contended that Vivendi, under its former chief Jean-Marie Messier, fraudulently concealed the dire nature of the company's finances and liquidity from Liberty Media and other investors.

Vivendi agreed in December 2001, amid much fanfare, to buy the lucrative USA cable network, the Syfy channel and USA's robust television production studio, assets then managed by Barry Diller, in a stock and cash deal estimated at $10 billion.

Liberty Media owned 21% of USA — a stake then valued at nearly $2 billion. But the French company's cataclysmic stock collapse in 2002 erased much of the value of Liberty's holdings in Vivendi. The USA Network deal closed in 2002.

Liberty, based in Colorado and headed by cable mogul John Malone, had asked the federal jury in New York to grant it an award of 841 million euros. After a four-week trial and nearly two days of deliberations, the jury on Monday returned an award of 765 million euros, or about $950 million.

“Liberty Media is very gratified by the jury's verdict,” said Michael Calhoon, a Washington, D.C., attorney with the Baker Botts firm, which represents Liberty.

Liberty filed the lawsuit, alleging breach of warranty and fraud, in 2003. The case unfolded during the last four weeks in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

“Vivendi believes that there are many grounds for appeal and continues to believe strongly that it did nothing wrong, and will continue to vigorously defend itself in any subsequent appellant proceedings,” Vivendi said in a statement.

Herve Pisani, a Paris attorney who represents Vivendi, said the company's appeal would be based on several factors, including instructions to the jury to assume that Vivendi's communiques — press releases and financial statements — were incorrect and misleading. Vivendi also lost a 2009 class-action suit alleging that it misled investors.

Vivendi sold much of its U.S. entertainment holdings to General Electric Co. in 2004. The French company completely exited film and television business in January 2011, when GE merged NBCUniversal into Comcast Corp. USA Network has become the most valuable asset in NBCUniversal, in recent years producing as much as $1 billion in profit annually for the company.

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