Lawyer Has Vivendi Unit In His Sights

Canoy is representing APPAC, which is taking on behemoths of the French stock exchange. One of their primary targets is Vivendi Universal, whose management misdeeds lost stockholders up to $48.4 billi

PARIS (Hollywood Reporter)-- Mention David and Goliath to French lawyer Frederik-Karel Canoy and he shrugs. "I'm supposed to be David?" he asks, disingenuously.

The comparison is not unreasonable. Canoy is a modest lawyer representing a small association of militant shareholders, APPAC, which is taking on behemoths of the French stock exchange. One of their primary targets is Vivendi Universal, whose management misdeeds lost stockholders up to $48.4 billion, Canoy asserts.

Canoy was at university with APPAC president Didier Cornardeau, so when the latter formed the shareholders' association in March 2002, he asked Canoy to front the legal team. "We play hardball. We work with the criminal law. We think (some directors) are thieves, so they should go to jail," Canoy says.

His 10-by-15-foot office in the Paris suburb of St. Mande has none of the trappings of a star lawyer. Indeed, Canoy's daily bread is a humdrum mix of divorce cases and representing police officers for the interior ministry. "For me, this is the case of a lifetime," he says.

Canoy's legal moves prompted an inquiry into suspected wrongdoing at Vivendi Universal by France's financial police. Among alleged irregularities under investigation is the company's large-scale acquisition of its own shares in fall 2001, which reportedly took place in the banned 15-day period before the publication of financial results and supposedly broke regulations on the quantity purchased and time of transaction. So far, two Vivendi staff and a bank executive are facing charges in connection with the probe. Vivendi Universal, which is a plaintiff in the investigation, declines to comment on the case.

Canoy also alleges irregularities in the terms of severance arrangements for ex-chairman Jean-Marie Messier, and claims that Vivendi Universal falsified its accounts when the company was first quoted on Wall Street--allegations almost impossible to substantiate without the sort of access police investigators have.

But his central claim concerns the cataclysmic fall in Vivendi Uni's share price in 2002 that accompanied the ousting of Messier and the discovery of the company's colossal debt problem.

"The share price went down because the company gave out false information," Canoy states. "I'd like to see the (creditor) banks get together to compensate shareholders. The criminal charges are another thing."

Canoy contends that Vivendi Universal will be the "French Enron." He also says he was offered an unspecified sum to drop his case but does not want to say publicly from whom the offer came. Vivendi Universal says it is suing him for defamation after he suggested in a French paper that it came from them.

So what drives him to take on French corporate might? "In France, it's a club. Those who run companies are incompetent. They're just in it for enrichment. The whole economic system is going to collapse, just like in Russia," predicts Canoy, who says he stands for capitalism with moral values. "You don't take the company plane to go to Morocco with your mistress!" he thunders, alluding to alleged behavior of one of the directors in his firing line.


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