Viv wants its bucks back

Fourtou sez salary dispute a 'complicated legal situation'

NEW YORK — Vivendi Universal chairman Jean-Rene Fourtou swears ousted topper Jean-Marie Messier won’t get a dime from the company — except his July salary, which Fourtou said was paid accidentally “out of distraction.”

Messier was forced to resign in late June as the cash-strapped company’s fortunes continued to tumble.

Viv U lawyers are trying to force Messier to cough up the dough, which was paid in the U.S. even though his French salary had been discontinued.

“Today we are in a rather complicated legal situation,” Fourtou conceded.

He thinks Messier was too enamored of himself, of the press and of dealmaking — and generally too hyperactive. “I told him this morning, ‘Please take it easy. Take it easy.’ But he can’t do it. He can’t do it,” Fourtou added.

As for Vivendi Universal Entertainment topper Barry Diller, Fourtou had this to say: “Barry certainly wants more than I do to be quoted in the media.” (Diller is actually rather reticent about granting interviews but he did happen to be featured in a spread including an unusually large headshot in the Financial Times on Monday.)

But Fourtou said he values Diller’s expertise and passion for the industry. “We like one another. We say so twice a day,” Fourtou told reporters.

He said that the complex partnership between Diller, Viv U, VUE and USA Interactive will have to be unraveled eventually, hinting at a potential split.

“I don’t exclude Barry’s being involved in this project,” he said. Or John Malone. “He also phones me. He also likes me and wants to buy everything.”

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