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Former Vivendi boss admits errors during 2002 freefall

City A.M. Reporter
JEAN-MARIE Messier, the emblematic entrepreneur who created media group Vivendi out of a water firm through a spate of leveraged acquisitions that nearly choked the company, admitted in court yesterday he had made strategic errors.

The 53-year old Frenchman, ousted from Vivendi in 2002, is standing trial, accused of giving out misleading information, manipulating stock prices and misappropriated company funds between 2000 and 2002, when the group bought Universal Studios, USA Networks and other telecom assets.

If convicted, he could face a sentence of up to five years in jail and as much as a €375,000 (£313,330) fine.

On the first day of his trial, which is set to last three weeks, Messier said his idea to create a global group based on the expected convergence between communication channels and content had been good but premature.

“Did we make errors? Yes. As chairman I take responsibility for that, especially a lack in foresight,” he said, but he also blamed financial analysts for the buzz around the merger activities under his stewardship as he turned the Generale des Eaux water and waste treatment conglomerate between 1996 and 2002 into a $51bn (£35bn) global media empire at its high point.

Vivendi shares traded at €138 in the first quarter of 2000 and fell to below €10 in the first half of 2002.

The man who once branded himself “J6M,” for “Jean-Marie Messier me myself master of the world” in French, told the court he has a monthly income of €25,000 from his consulting company, where he employs 20 people.

The plaintiffs, small investors who are asking for combined €10m in compensation, called the court case a model trial.