The legal lashings that former MGM boss Kirk Kerkorian and the Hollywood studio’s owner Credit Lyonnais are exchanging in the courtroom may be an open-air circus. Less publicized is the litigants’ covert press campaign.

It’s a campaign that the Kerkorian team, in terms of column inches, has been winning hands-down. Indeed, the bank’s beleaguered PR officials claim they are not even involved in such an operation.

Kerkorian and the bank have countersued each other over a complex chain of transactions related to the ill-fated sale of MGM to Italo financier Giancarlo Parretti a couple of years back.

In late January, the umpteenth story critical of the bank’s management of the studio ran in Le Monde: “Credit Lyonnais entangled in the MGM trap.”

A new book called “Argent Sale” (Dirty Money) could further embarrass the embattled bank.

French politician Franois D’Aubert’s book investigates Parretti’s rise from obscurity to head of MGM. In particular, D’Aubert savages Credit Lyonnais for its support of the Parretti bid for the studio. The book was published in France on Feb. 5.

D’Aubert contends the bank’s Paris headquarters must have been fully aware of what Credit Lyonnais Bank Nederland, was doing in backing Parretti — an allegation the bank persistently denies. He also claims the French Socialist government stymied an attempt to force bank president Jean-Yves Haberer to appear before a finance commission to explain what had been going on at its Dutch arm.

So far the bank has yet to respond to “Dirty Money.”

Unfortunately for the Kerkorian team, publication of D’Aubert’s long-promised expos has so far caused less of a flutter in the French press than might have been expected.

Another irony is that in this contentious legal battle, just about the only thing the two protaganists claim to agree upon is that they are not using the press to bad-mouth the opposition.

Kerkorian attorney Patricia Glaser, summing up her side’s position, said: “This is not a public relations dispute; it is a legal dispute. The facts speak for themselves.”

Credit Lyonnais has been notoriously unwilling to talk to the press, and has paid for it.

“We’re bankers and we have been a little reticent about talking to journalists,” acknowledged a spokesman for the bank, “but we’re learning.”

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