June 1, 2010 5:42 PM
Vivendi/Messier Trial Opens in Paris
Posted by Brian Baxter
After a setback in a federal court in New York earlier this year, French media conglomerate Vivendi is now facing off against former chairman and CEO Jean-Marie Messier in a trial that opened in Paris today.
Bloomberg reports that Messier faces criminal charges of market manipulation and misuse of corporate funds brought by French prosecutors stemming from his time as head of the company between 2000 and 2002. Once primarily a French water utility, Vivendi was brought to the brink of bankruptcy under Messier through a series of high-profile media acquisitions.
Vivendi is not a defendant in the case, but the company has aligned itself with the prosecution, Bloomberg reports. That's because a U.S. jury cleared Messier of any wrongdoing in January and instead held Vivendi liable in a securities class action suit for up to $9 billion in damages. A guilty verdict against Messier would go a long way towards softening that loss. (Milberg's Matthew Gluck was one of the lead lawyers for plaintiffs in the U.S. shareholder suit, which Vivendi plans to appeal.)
Messier's U.S. lawyer, Michael Malone from King & Spalding, was named a Litigator of the Week by sibling publication The Am Law Litigation Daily for his efforts during the trial. Also honored was Schulte Roth & Zabel litigation cochair Martin Perschetz, who represented former Vivendi CFO Guillaume Hannezo in the case.
Both Messier and Hannezo are now defendants in the Paris case along with four other former Vivendi officials and Deutsche Bank's former head of French equities, according to Bloomberg. One of the ex-Vivendi executives standing trial on insider trading charges is Edgar Bronfman, Jr., the current chief executive at Warner Music Group who became a Vivendi vice-chairman following the company's $34 billion acquisition of Seagram in 2000.
The defendants were ordered to stand trial last year after a ruling by an investigating French magistrate judge. As a result, the top U.S. legal talent will wait on the sidelines while French counsel take lead roles and likely grab the headlines.
Local lawyer Pierre Haïk is representing Messier in the Paris proceedings, while Hervé Pisani of Paris's Darrois Villey Maillot Brochier is advising Vivendi during the trial. (Bloomberg reports that under French criminal law, those determined to have a possible claim can be granted civil party status during an inquiry and subsequent trial. Pisani told Bloomberg that Vivendi hasn't yet determined how much to seek in damages from the Paris case.)
Bronfman is being represented by Thierry Marembert of Paris's Kiejman & Marembert, while Hannezo has turned to Jean Veil, managing partner of Paris firm Veil Jourde. Veil advised French bank Société Générale during the fallout over a $6 billion loss caused by a rogue trader two years ago.Make a comment