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Martin Sorrell's once-undisputed control of the advertising giant he's assembled over more than 30 years may be slipping away.

The firm, WPP Plc, is investigating allegations of personal misconduct by the 73-year-old Sorrell. The company statement Tuesday -- along with a denial by Sorrell -- was released after news of the probe was leaked to the Wall Street Journal, which reported that the accusations involved possible misuse of company assets.

The probe adds to mounting pressure facing the chief executive officer as the ad industry combats reduced spending from clients like Unilever and Procter & Gamble Co. and rising competition from web giants including Google and Facebook Inc., which are gobbling up an ever-larger share of corporate marketing budgets. It also highlights concerns of how the fate of a 130,000-employee operation is so closely identified with one person.

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