Jean-Rene Fourtou, the former head of France's largest chemicals firm, was last night voted in as chairman and chief executive of Vivendi Universal. He replaces the Jean-Marie Messier, architect of the company's transition from water group into media mogul, but whose dash for growth cost the firm billions of Euro.
Not only has Jean-Marie Messier's departure left Vivendi awash in red ink, but the situation yesterday progressed so far as to prompt the company to refute the possibility of bankruptcy.
At the end of another rough day, beleaguered Vivendi Universal yesterday (July 3) issued a blunt denial that it had done any wrong in its accounting treatment of the BSkyB shares disposal.
Yesterday the influential Le Monde newspaper raised doubts about its treatment of a Euros1.5bn loan arising from the sale of its BSkyB stake late last year. Following the story Vivendi Universal shares plunged by over 25%.
Vivendi Universal said "accounting for such a structure is specifically addressed under US GAAP principles; however, it was not clear to the company under French GAAP standards. Therefore, the company consulted with its auditors prior to and during the transaction." It added that it had met with the French stockmarket regulator the COB before booking the transaction in the manner that it did. It also met with representatives of the US Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC). "The SEC advised the company that it did not object to the company's treatment of the BSkyB sale under US GAAP".
Press reports are circulating suggesting that Rupert Murdoch's News Corp yesterday approached Vivendi Universal seeking a reduction in the Euros1.5bn cost of buying Italian pay-TV operator Telepiu. In a position to be able to walk away from the deal, News Corp is said to seeking a 20% price cut.
And in what seems like an ever more desperate attempt to restore investor confidence in the company banker Marc Viennot, head of Societe Generale and Vivendi Universal board member, today said that there was no danger of bankruptcy.
Ahead of the board meeting which confirmed former Aventis boss Jean-Rene Fourtou as Vivendi Universal's new chairman and CEO, Viennot also said that departing chief Jean-Marie Messier had not been given guarantees against legal action or protection from any eventual financial penalties. "Messier currently has no guarantee of any kind," from the Vivendi board, he said. Vienot was speaking on French radio following reports that Messier is seeking an $18m compensation package and additional guarantees from the board. "I am not saying the board won't discuss it, but it won't do so tonight."