Messier made $6 mil, sold Viv U stox in ’02

Former topper, company in arbitration

NEW YORK — Former Vivendi Universal chairman Jean-Marie Messier, whose freewheeling acquisition binge is blamed for driving the conglom to near bankruptcy last year, earned 5.6 million euros (about $6 million) in salary and benefits in 2002 — a 10% increase from the previous year — plus a $90,780 director’s fee, according to a preliminary annual report filed on Viv U’s Web site.

According to the hefty 467-page document, Messier and Viv U are now in arbitration regarding additional payments after the board last fall denied its former topper a severance package. Vivendi sees a resolution in the second half.

Viv U also said Messier sold 231,000 shares in the months before the company nearly collapsed under crushing debt and its stock sank. Messier, the subject of class action lawsuits in the U.S. and France, was pushed out last July. He had adamantly denied selling stock during the period before that. Vivendi stated in an earlier filing that none of its directors sold shares in the first half of 2002.

Viv U said that statement was based on declarations by Messier.

Messier’s successor as chairman-CEO, Jean-Rene Fourtou, earned $535,066 last year and waived his director’s fee.

Former Seagram CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr. was paid $18.4 million, including a severance package for stepping down as Viv U vice chairman. He still sits on the board, and his family remains Viv U’s single largest shareholder.

Pierre Lescure, whom Messier knocked from the helm of French paybox Canal Plus in April 2002, took home $4.4 million, also including severance.

Viv U said its top 10 highest paid execs took home $55.4 million and that nine of the 10 were U.S. executives. It didn’t name them.

The report makes Vivendi the first of the big media congloms to release details of executive compensation so far this year. More are on the way. U.S. companies provide such stats in so-called proxy statements sent out in April, ahead of annual shareholder meetings, usually held in May. With many stocks floundering and stockholders significantly poorer, executive pay has become a hot-button subject.

‘In transition’

In the annual report, Vivendi called itself “a company in transition” and said its main goal is to return to an investment-grade credit profile in the next 12-18 months by reducing debt and husbanding cash. Under Fourtou, Vivendi has sold nearly $8 billion worth of assets under a targeted $17.2 billion divestiture plan. It also spent $4.3 billion to buy control of French telco group Cegetel.

Separately Thursday, Vivendi announced the successful pricing of $1.29 billion of privately placed high-yield bond, up from the initial $1.08 billion.

Viv U, which is exploring a sale of its U.S. entertainment assets, said it continues to get unsolicited offers for its properties from strategic and financial buyers. And it noted a $620 million tax dispute between Barry Diller’s USA Interactive and Vivendi over the Vivendi Universal Entertainment partnership that houses all the showbiz assets but music.

Company also acknowledged that under the VUE contract, it would owe Diller and USAI a significant pile of cash (it didn’t specify exactly how much) if it sold pieces of VUE separately before 2017, which is more than likely.

Vivendi shares rose 1.14% to $14.20 in New York.

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