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Vivendi ex-CEO seeks probe

Accepts blame for buyback plan, defends colleagues

PARIS -- Jean-Marie Messier, the embattled former chief executive of Vivendi Universal SA, asked yesterday to be placed under investigation in a judicial probe into alleged share price manipulation by the French media and entertainment company.

Messier, who left Vivendi in July 2002, said in a statement that he accepted responsibility for a share buyback the previous year, which the company's accusers say broke French stock market laws.

His request came after French prosecutors began legal action against Vivendi's serving treasurer Hubert Dupont-Lothelain, his deputy Francois Blondet, and a senior employee of Deutsche Bank AG.

Lawyers for the pair confirmed they were placed under formal investigation last Tuesday -- one step short of being charged. Philippe Guez, a senior manager at Deutsche Bank and the former head of its equities arm, was also placed under investigation on Friday, judicial officials said on condition of anonymity.

The Vivendi employees are accused of arranging for the company to buy back shares above authorized volumes in September and October 2001 in an effort to boost their market price.

A Vivendi spokesman declined to comment on the investigation.

In a statement, Messier wrote, "I request to be placed immediately under investigation to take responsibility for this legitimate decision by the company, to explain myself and to defend my former colleagues."

Earlier, Dupont-Lothelain's lawyer, Roger Doumith, said his client had been acting under orders when the buyback occurred, shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States wreaked havoc on world markets.

Emmanuel Daoud, attorney for Blondet, said the share purchases were so large that both the French market regulator and Vivendi's top management must have been aware of them.

The market watchdog in September concluded an investigation into financial irregularities at Vivendi. Based in part on the investigation's findings, prosecutors opened a criminal probe in October into alleged "publication of false financial results" and the "distribution of false or misleading information" on the company's financial outlook for 2001 and 2002.

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