European investors OK'd to join Vivendi suit

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PARIS -- A federal judge in New York has ruled that French, English and Dutch citizens who bought Vivendi shares before the French media-to-telecom group neared bankruptcy in 2002 are allowed to join a U.S. class action against the company that was initiated by Vivendi shareholders.

"The United States District Court in New York which is hearing the class action initiated against Vivendi in July 2002, has decided that the persons from the United States, France, England and the Netherlands who purchased or acquired shares or ADS of Vivendi -- previously Vivendi Universal -- between Oct. 30, 2000, and Aug. 14, 2002, could be included in the class," Vivendi said in a statement Sunday.

Vivendi will review the appropriate measures to ensure its best defense, the company said.

The company is entitled to appeal the ruling.

In the summer of 2002, Vivendi Universal found itself on the brink of bankruptcy after it had engaged in an acquisition frenzy under the helm of its chairman Jean-Marie Messier.

Messier was sacked by Vivendi's board of directors in July 2002 and the company underwent severe restructuring.

"For the first time, an American judge decided he's competent in a class action regarding alleged violations of American securities laws by French managers of a French company at the expense of French shareholders," French shareholders activist organization ADAM said in a statement Sunday.

"The ruling is a major win for Vivendi shareholders, who were largely French at that time and who can now hope to be compensated for their financial loss," ADAM's representative and minority shareholders activist Colette Neuville said in a phone interview.

Defendants in the case are the company, Messier and former Vivendi Universal Chief Financial Officer Guillaume Hannezo.

The class action was initiated by two French individual shareholders accusing Vivendi and its top executives of using false information to hide the company's real financial situation.
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