Former Vivendi Universal SA chief executive Jean-Marie Messier today (June 28) defended the massive share buy-backs carried out by the media/telecoms company three years ago in an effort to prop up it

Former Vivendi Universal SA chief executive Jean-Marie Messier today (June 28) defended the massive share buy-backs carried out by the media/telecoms company three years ago in an effort to prop up its stock price.

In an interview with weekly news magazine L'Express, Messier said the repurchases had been "in the interest of our shareholders."

"I am convinced that not to have taken the decision [to buy back the shares] would have been detrimental to the interests of the group and its shareholders," Messier told the magazine.

The former chief executive, who was ousted two years ago after taking the French group to the brink of collapse, said financial turmoil in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S. and an easing of U.S. regulations on company stock repurchases justified Vivendi Universal's strategy. He said "to have delivered our stock into the hands of speculators would have been worse."

French authorities are investigating the share buy-backs after it became clear Vivendi Universal had infringed various rules governing repurchases in France.

France's stock market watchdog -- the Autorite des Marches Financiers -- was aware of the infringements at the time, but decided not to launch a full enquiry, saying that exceptional circumstances following the Sept. 11 attacks justified "a flexible interpretation of certain measures."

The investigation into the share buy-backs is part of a wider probe into alleged financial wrongdoing at Vivendi Universal that saw Messier arrested last week and held by French police for two days of questioning.

Messier, the darling of French investors during the boom in media and technology stocks several years ago, was placed under formal investigation by French magistrates on suspicion of share price manipulation, publication of false information and misuse of company assets.

In his interview, Messier denied any wrongdoing and said he didn't have the money to pay his €1.35 million bail. He said he had never enriched himself personally at the expense of Vivendi Universal.


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