April 29, 2010 / 2:52 PM / 9 years ago

UPDATE 1-U.S. class action could cost $1 bln-Vivendi

* Chairman says legal fees could amount to 250 mln euros

* Fourtou remains confident over outcome

* Q1 in line with group expectations; EBITA target confirmed

(Writes through, adds detail)

By Cyril Altmeyer

PARIS, April 29 (Reuters) - Vivendi (VIV.PA) could end up paying out 800 million euros ($1.1 billion) if a U.S.-based class action lawsuit leads to a guilty verdict on claims the group misled investors about a liquidity crisis.

The entertainment-to-telecom conglomerate, which was found liable by a New-York court last January, may have to add about 250 million euros in legal fees to the 550 million euros it has already set aside in 2009, Chairman Jean-Rene Fourtou said.

“Let’s imagine we were condemned in the end; it would have cost the company 800 million euros in total,” the chairman told shareholders during the group’s annual meeting on Thursday.

But Fourtou told shareholders that proceedings could last another two to three years and he was confident Vivendi would not have to pay in the end.

On Jan. 29, a Manhattan federal court jury found the group misled shareholders about Vivendi’s financial health between October 2000 and August 2002, when Vivendi shares lost almost 90 percent of their value. [ID:nN29195757]

However, former Chief Executive Jean-Marie Messier and former Financial Officer Guillaume Hannezo were not found liable by the jury, a verdict which was criticised by Vivendi, which is appealing the decision.

Fourtou’s comments come a day after the group was dealt a blow by a French judge, who rejected Vivendi’s bid to exclude French shareholders from the U.S. class action lawsuit on the ground that American law on class actions differs from France’s. [ID:nLDE63R2AZ]

“I regret deeply that in this case, Vivendi has decided to make war and sue the victims and those that defend them, rather than attacking the people really responsible, those who made shareholders lose 2 billion euros in 2000,” said Colette Neuville, the head of Adam, a small shareholders’ group.

Vivendi’s chairman said the group was also sueing Messier and six other former executives in a separate trial set to start in June in Paris.

“Catastrophic management is not an offence, that’s the problem,” Fourtou said, adding that he hoped another legal spat with Deutsche Telekom (DTEGn.DE) in Poland would also find a resolution after 10 years of wrangling.

The group, set to report first-quarter sales on May 11, said the first three months of the year had met its expectations and confirmed it forecast a “slight rise” in earning before interest, tax and amortisation (EBITA) in 2010.

Shares in Vivendi were up 1 percent to 19.64 euros by 1405 GMT, broadly in line with France's CAC 40 index of blue chips .FCHI. (Writing by Michel Rose; Editing by David Cowell)

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