Vivendi replaces chairman and CEO

Vivendi Universal SA Wednesday put an end to rumors of an executive shakeup, announcing that it has replaced its chairman and chief executive officer, Jean-Marie Messier, and named two new members to its board.

Messier gave his formal resignation during a board meeting Wednesday, according to a brief statement from Vivendi Universal. He was immediately replaced by Jean-René Fourtou, a top executive of drug maker Aventis SA, according to the statement.

The Paris-based multinational media company, which owns companies including Universal Entertainment Inc. and European cable TV provider Canal Plus SA, also named two new board members. Claude Bebear, chairman of AXA, one of the world's largest insurance companies, replaces board member Jean-Louis Beffa; and Gerard Kleisterlee, president and chief executive officer of Royal Philips Electronics NV, replaces Philippe Foriel-Destezet.

The company's board Wednesday also announced the formation of a financial committee chaired by Bebear that will be responsible for "creating financial transparency and resolving short-term financing issues," the company said in the statement.

A second committee was formed to diagnose the company's problems and head up strategy changes at the company. It will be headed by Vivendi Universal board member Henri Lachmann.

French news reports Tuesday said Messier had been forced out of Vivendi and that the company had used tricky accounting methods to increase profits in 2001. The Commission de Operations de Bourse, France's counterpart to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, late Tuesday issued a statement noting that it had investigated Vivendi Universal's accounting methods and cleared the company of wrongdoing.

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