Former Vivendi Universal chairman Jean-Marie Messier scoredanother round of victory in his ongoing battle to secure a severance payment onMonday in New York.
Following an arbitration court's decision that Messier was owed$23.5 million in exit monies and Vivendi Universal's appeal against thefindings, state supreme court justice Marilyn Shafer said the June 27arbitration panel's award would stick, calling the decision"rational" and "within their authority."
Messier, who is roundly criticised as the architect of Vivendi'sprecipitous slide into debt and near ruin, claimed the company owed himseverance fees, a claim that was hotly contested by the Vivendi administration.Current Vivendi chairman Jean-Rene Fourtou had publicly vowed that Messierwould never see a penny from the company.
Vivendi sought to block the decision by the arbitration courtstating that it violated French law requiring a unanimous board of directors' vote to approve an executiveseverance package. However, Judge Shafer noted in her findings that Messier andVivendi had indeed signed an agreement prior to the arbitration court hearingin which both said they would not challenge the court's decision.
Yet, after the June ruling, Vivendi blocked the payout bycontesting it in the Paris Commercial Court. On Monday, Shafer noted that both"parties expressly agreed to be bound by arbitration in New York" andshould the Paris court's blockage of the payments be allowed to stand it would"encourage a policy of permitting disappointed litigants to avoid binding,albeit unfavorable, arbitration determinations."
In Shafer's ruling she added,"The court cannot conceive ofany interpretation of, or rationale behind, Vivendi's commencement of therecent French actions that are compliant with the express terms of thearbitration agreement."
Late Monday evening, Vivendi issued a statement saying it wouldcontinue to fight against the decision, "Vivendi Universal intends to useall legal options to oppose a payment to Mr. Messier, including appeal and arequest to stay enforcement of the judgement pending the appeal."
The New York court did allow that it was sympathetic to the Frenchcourt's argument that a vote by shareholders would permit a more level outcomebut added that Vivendi has had "ample opportunity to conduct a shareholdervote." Still, the court said a vote would amount to too little too late.
Separately,France's securities authority the COB has opened an investigation intowrongdoing on the part of Messier and Vivendi Universal. But, in an interviewwith French daily Les Echos to be published Tuesday, Messier said the COB hadexonnerated him of insider trading.