Viv U yanks Messier’s perks

Gotham flat, secretary, driver to be cut; Moody's warns co.

Ousted Vivendi Universal chairman Jean-Marie Messier will leave a company-owned $17.5 million Park Avenue duplex by year’s end so the indebted conglom can unload it for some fresh cash, Viv U finance chief Jacques Espinasse said.

“He will be out by the end of the year and we will sell it,” Espinasse told reporters Thursday after a French parliamentary committee meeting. He said Messier will continue to pay market-rate rent until then.

Vivendi bought the apartment in 2001 for Messier when he relocated from Paris to New York — a controversial move in France that cemented his image there as overly enamored of America. He was forced out of Viv U in late June.

New Vivendi topper Jean-Rene Fourtou, who visited New York several weeks ago, has or soon will cut off other Messier perks, including a secretary and driver.

Fourtou told the committee that by the end of 2002, the conglom would sell off €5 billion ($4.9 billion) in assets, including its publishing businesses, deals for which should be settled in a matter of weeks. He plans $11.7 billion in sales in the next 18 months.

He reassured investors the Telepiu sale to News Corp. is nearly finalized.

Moody’s warning

Separately, ratings agency Moody’s Investors Services warned Vivendi must “carefully husband its cash resources” as banks iron out the final conditions on a $2.9 billion short-term loan announced last week. Delays could lead to a further cut in its rating, already at junk level, the agency said.

At a press conference Wednesday outlining Vivendi’s strategy, Fourtou largely blamed Moody’s for a liquidity crisis, which badly rattled Vivendi stock and investor confidence. A downgrade to junk status over the summer, which he believes was unjustified, created a spiral that pushed the company to the financial brink and made it difficult to extract the required financing from banks.

Vivendi shares rose 3.8% in New York Thursday to $12.77.

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