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Vivendi: Hackers wrecked vote

CEO Messier annuls result of shareholder meeting after suspected tampering
CEO Messier annuls result of shareholder meeting after suspected tampering  

PARIS, France (CNN) -- Vivendi Universal will launch legal action on Monday against suspected hackers who allegedly interfered with votes at the company's annual shareholders' meeting last week.

The world's second-largest media company said its board would also meet on Monday to call for a new shareholders' meeting for early June. That would give shareholders another opportunity to vote on issues that were voted down.

Chief Executive Jean-Marie Messier alleged late on Friday that hackers had sabotaged electronic voting. The company didn't identify who the alleged hackers were.

At the raucous meeting last Wednesday, shareholders jeered and called for the resignation of Messier and quashed plans for the executive to pick up 2 billion euros ($1.9 billion) in share options.

The company said electronic hacking led to an unusually high abstention rate of at least 20 percent.

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"That could have taken place through the actions of a team equipped with transmitter-receivers and who were well informed with regard to the procedures and technical protocols for electronic voting,'' it added.

Vivendi said all electronic voting material was in good working order and has been impounded.

The latest twist in Messier's fortunes came after a revolt by employees and an outcry from shareholders, the public and politicians over the sacking of the group's popular Canal Plus TV chief Pierre Lescure.

Messier, who transformed the company from a water utility to a media conglomerate, has fallen out of favour with shareholders after spending billions on acquisitions.

The company posted a 13.6 billion euro net loss for 2001, while its share price has tumbled more than 70 percent since Messier began his spending spree two years ago.

Messier was booed and heckled at the shareholders' meeting but has the full backing of the board. Shareholder groups said they would challenge Messier's decision to annul the result of the annual general meeting (AGM).

Colette Neuville, president of the ADAM shareholder rights organization, which opposed the option plan, told the Financial Times: "The governance of this company never ceases to amaze me; a decision is sovereign and cannot be unilaterally cancelled on the whim of a chief executive."

"Mr. Messier would be right to voice any suspicions he might have, but the courts have to rule first that the votes were invalid before he can declare the meeting null and void. For that reason, his statement is totally premature and smacks of the behaviour of the spoilt child or totalitarian government."


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