PARIS, June 4 Wendel's chief executive
rejected a series of accusations against himself, the French
investment group's chairman and a former CEO, saying he had
filed a countersuit for false claims, as he sought to reassure
investors at its annual meeting.
CEO Frederic Lemoine was responding on Monday to a
complaint, filed by a former executive in February and revealed
last week by Liberation newspaper, alleging misuse of company
assets, insider trading and share price manipulation.
"Many of you have been shocked like me by the allegations
and the attacks you have been able to read in the newspapers,"
Lemoine told shareholders. "I will not let this person tarnish
our company's image without responding."
"Whereas Wendel is committed to acting with transparency,
good governance, social and environmental responsibility, some
are seeking to tarnish its image and discredit certain managers
through unremitting, self-interested and personal attacks,"
An earlier court case over the so-called Solfur affair, in
which 14 company managers bought 4.7 percent of the group's
capital for 324 million euros ($405 million) under a complex
deal in 2007, had been dismissed last year by the Paris court of
But last Wednesday, Liberation reported that a new complaint
had been filed by former Wendel legal head Arnaud Descleves
evoking "financial acrobatics" by Chairman Ernest-Antoine
Seilliere and former CEO Jean-Bernard Lafonta as part of the
Solfur profit-sharing scheme the company had set up in 2004.
From 2004 to 2007, executives had acquired Wendel shares as
they soared to around 142 euros, but were forbidden to sell them
until October 2008 due to the privileged information they had
about Wendel's gradual building of its stake in Saint-Gobain
The complaint alleges, however, that Lafonta and Seilliere
did not respect the "lock-up" and proceeded to sell their shares
as they anticipated a fall in Saint-Gobain's share price during
the subprime crisis.
By March 2009, Wendel's shares had collapsed to around 16
euros and Lafonta was forced out by shareholders.
The complaint, posted on Les Echos' website, claims Lafonta
sold Wendel shares for 40 million euros in 2007 without
declaring the sale and that Seilliere also sold 153,000 shares
after initially criticising Lafonta.
Wendel has holdings in several European industrial companies
including Stahl and Legrand. It also owns more than 50
percent of inspection company Bureau Veritas.
($1 = 0.8003 euros)
(Reporting by Alice Cannet; Editing by Richard Chang)