Vivendi faces financial probe in US and France

Vivendi Universal, the French media and utilities giant, is facing investigations into its accounting practices both in the US and France.

In the US, it faces a criminal investigation, with both the attorney's office and Securities and Exchange Commission conducting preliminary enquiries.

Investigations are understood to concentrate on whether it produced accurate financial reports in 2001.

Separately, the Paris public prosecutor has launched an inquiry into whether Vivendi published false balance sheets in 2000 and 2001.

Vivendi, which under Jean-Rene Fourtou, its new chief executive, is trying to take control of France's second-largest telephone company, Cegetel, issued a statement indicating its co-operation with the investigation.

It said: "As in France, Vivendi intends to co-operate fully with the US attorney's office for the Southern District of New York, which has opened a preliminary criminal investigation involving Vivendi Universal. The US Securities and Exchange Commission's Miami office, which has been conducting an informal inquiry, will be co-ordinating its activities with the US attorney's investigation. Vivendi Universal intends to co-operate fully with those preliminary investigations."

The investigation focuses on accounts from the time when Jean-Marie Messier, the previous chief executive, was still in charge.

Vivendi is in the process of attempting to raise cash by disposing of assets. It recently sold Telepui, its Italian pay-television operation, to News Corporation. It is also locked in a battle with Vodafone for control of Cegetel. Vivendi currently owns 44 per cent of the company.

Shareholders in Cegetel have given Vivendi until 10 December to raise the finances required to buy BT's 26 per cent stake in Cegetel. Vodafone has already approached BT but Vivendi is talking to a consortium of banks to help fund the deal. The banks involved are said to be seeking security against all Vivendi's US assets including its music, studios and cable television operations.

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