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French authorities raid headquarters of Vivendi Universal in Paris

Updated:
PARIS (AP) _ French authorities searched the headquarters of Vivendi Universal and the home of its former chairman, Jean-Marie Messier, on Thursday as part of an investigation into alleged financial irregularities, judicial officials and police said.

Paris prosecutors are probing allegations that under Messier the firm published false information to bolster its share price.

The company confirmed Thursday that authorities had searched a number of offices. Messier's home also was being searched, authorities said. Messier canceled an appearance later in the day at the Anglo-American Press Association.

Prosecutors are investigating allegations that Vivendi published false balance sheets for 2000 and 20001 and released false or misleading information on its prospects for the following years.

The prosecutor's office inquiry began Oct. 29 after a complaint filed by APPAC, an association of minority shareholders.

Vivendi is also under investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The company said last month that it would fully cooperate with the SEC's investigation, which is proceeding in conjunction with a probe by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Messier was ousted as chairman and CEO in July and replaced by Jean-Rene Fourtou amid a major liquidity crisis and mounting debt at the company.

Since then, Vivendi has embarked on a major sell-off of billions of dollars in assets _ including its original water business _ to dump the biggest debt load in French corporate history.

As part of those efforts, Vivendi announced about six weeks ago that it was selling U.S publisher Houghton Mifflin to a group of financiers including the Blackstone Group, a private U.S. investment group.
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