The former CFO of Vivendi Universal SA has been placed under investigation as part of a probe into alleged insider dealing and share-price manipulation at the French media and telecoms giant, his lawy

The former CFO of Vivendi Universal SA has been placed under investigation as part of a probe into alleged insider dealing and share-price manipulation at the French media and telecoms giant, his lawyer said today (June 7).

Attorney Jean Veil said his client, Guillaume Hannezo, was formally placed under investigation Friday -- one step short of being charged.

Veil played down the significance of the move by investigating magistrates, saying it amounted to a "technical measure."

Hannezo served as Vivendi's CFO under former CEO Jean-Marie Messier, who was ousted in July 2002 as the company's finances crumbled and its debt spiraled out of control.

Vivendi treasurer Hubert Dupont-Lhotelain was placed under investigation in March along with his deputy and a Deutsche Bank manager as part of the same probe into a massive share buyback launched during the weeks following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States.

Prosecutors accuse Vivendi of arranging to buy its own shares above authorized volumes in September and October of that year in order to boost their market price.

The have also questioned Michel Prada, head of the French market authority, who later wrote to Messier saying the watchdog planned to take no action despite Vivendi's repeated breaches of market rules on share buybacks.

Messier has said he accepts responsibility for the buyback scheme and asked to be placed under investigation along with his former colleagues.

Prosecutors launched the investigation in October 2002 after a small shareholders' group filed a formal complaint.

The group, APPAC, said the actions of Vivendi's former management deceived investors and caused many of them to lose money.


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