Former Areva chief rejects auditor criticism
PARIS May 21 (Reuters) - Anne Lauvergeon, the former chief executive of Areva, on Wednesday rejected the top public auditor's criticism of her management of the French state-owned nuclear group and said she had made no mistakes.
The "Cour des Comptes" last week, in a report published by French media, criticised Areva's 2007 acquisition of uranium mine UraMin, on which it had to write down 1.9 billion euros; a 3 billion euro loss due to delays and cost overruns on a reactor in Finland; and Lauvergeon's exit deal when she left Areva in June 2011, which it described as excessive.
Lauvergeon, who ran Areva from 2001 to 2011 and who was ranked as the world's 9th most powerful woman in 2008 by Forbes magazine, told a news conference "there had been no mistakes".
She blamed the UraMin writedown on the impact of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster on uranium demand and played down reports that the uranium content of the Africa-based mines are much lower than the sellers had led Areva to believe.
Asked whether the UraMin acquisition was a wise investment, she said all investments made just before the financial crisis had turned sour.
"Anyone who made an acquisition in the first half of 2007, in any industry, would prefer to not have done it, because prices have fallen since," she said.
She added that Fukushima was the main reason for the UraMin writedown, although she did not elaborate on why Areva and other uranium miners did not write down its stakes in other sites.
"Impairments and writedowns are common at big mining companies," she said.
Asked about the billions of cost overruns and years of delays on Areva's EPR reactor under construction in Olkiluoto, Finland - which was the first of its kind when construction started in 2005 - she said delays were normal for a new model.
"When one launches a prototype, look at the Airbus A380, the Boeing Dreamliner, the new Microsoft Windows, there are by definition cases where there will be cost overruns," she said.
She said that all decisions about Olkiluoto and UraMin had been approved by Areva's supervisory board and its government shareholder.
"There was complete agreement about this," she said.
Areva is in the process of changing its governance structure following the auditor's report, creating a single board of directors, replacing a two tier structure where an executive board is overseen by a supervisory board.
The UraMin acquisition is also subject of a preliminary investigation by France's financial prosecutor for possible publication of inaccurate or untrue accounts and distribution of false or misleading information. (Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Andrew Callus)