Vincent Bolloré, the former chairman and biggest shareholder in media group Vivendi, is under investigation for allegedly using ad agency Havas (now owned by Vivendi) to work on elections in West Africa.
According to reports, Bolloré was held for questioning by French judicial police today (24 April) as part of an investigation into corrupt business practices in Africa. It is understood that the French judges are examining whether Havas helped finance the electoral campaigns of politicians who once in office granted port concessions to his company, the Bolloré' Groupe.
It is alleged that managers at the Bolloré Groupe offered the services of Havas at a massively discounted price to help with the 2010 presidential campaigns of the Guinean President Alpha Condé and Faure Gnassingbé of Togo.
The ad agency’s involvement in the campaign is being linked to how the Bolloré Groupe then gained control of two container terminals in the ports of Lomé, the capital of Togo, and Conakry, the capital of Guinea, in the same year.
Havas declined to comment on the investigation while the Bolloré Groupe “formally denies” that the agency did anything irregular.
“The interrogation of its executives will provide clarity to the judiciary on these questions, which were the subject of an independent audit that found the operations were perfectly regular,” the company said in a statement.
The Bolloré Groupe is the largest investor in media company Vivendi, which acquired Havas for €2.36bn last May. But the connection between the companies has been described as “muddy” long before the deal was made.
Vincent Bolloré is chairman and chief executive of the Bolloré Groupe and, until recently, chairman of Vivendi. He is also the father Yannick Bollore, chief executive of Havas, vice-chairman at the Bolloré Groupe and who earlier this week took on the chairmanship of Vivendi.
Other executives reported to have been taken into custody include Jean-Philippe Dorent, Havas’ global director of public affairs and Gilles Alix, chief executive of the Bolloré Groupe.
Share price for the Bolloré Groupe fells as much as 8% in early trading on the news. Vivendi's stock was also down at the time of writing.