October 28, 2013 / 2:36 PM / 5 years ago

Former Vivendi boss begins appeal in Paris court

PARIS (Reuters) - Jean-Marie Messier, the former boss of Vivendi (VIV.PA) who drove the media-and-telecom group to the brink of bankruptcy, began his appeal on Monday against a 2010 conviction for embezzlement and giving misleading information to shareholders.

Former Vivendi head Jean-Marie Messier (L) arrives for the opening of an appeals trial at Paris courts, October 28, 2013. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen

A Paris criminal court handed Messier a three-year suspended sentence and fined him 150,000 euros ($206,900) in the case.

The appeal is expected to last five weeks.

Messier, who now runs a boutique investment bank in Paris, led Vivendi a decade ago during the heady days of the Internet bubble. He became a symbol of corporate hubris when he nearly bankrupted the former utilities group with a massive acquisition spree.

Later, a class-action lawsuit in the United States and a criminal case in France were filed against Messier and several other Vivendi executives and board members, alleging that they misled investors about the financial strength of the group.

In the French criminal case against Messier, Vivendi was not directly concerned and was actually a plaintiff claiming damages. The court ordered in 2010 that 1.2 million euros in damages be paid to a group of individual shareholders.

One of Messier’s lawyers, Francis Szpiner, declined to comment before the appeal began.

In the U.S. class action, a Manhattan federal court jury found in January 2010 that Vivendi had misled shareholders about its financial health between October 2000 and August 2002, when the shares lost almost 90 percent of their value.

However, Messier and former financial officer Guillaume Hannezo were not found liable by the jury.

Vivendi is appealing the U.S. class action decision and the amount of damages it could have to pay has still not been determined. The group declined to comment on Monday.

($1 = 0.7250 euros)

Reporting by Gerard Bon and Leila Abboud; editing by Tom Pfeiffer

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