RealTime IT News

Vivendi Shareholder Meeting Hijacked

Officials at Parisian entertainment and media company Vivendi Universal suspect foul play and have filed a generic criminal claim Monday morning against those responsible for virtually hijacking votes at a recent shareholders meeting.

The security breach throws the entire process of online interaction at Vivendi into question and could result in a throwback measure of 20th-century paper votes, negating the benefits of gathering thousands of shareholders together and conducting "real-time" voting.

Officials were tipped off to the possible hack after going over the voting numbers of their Friday online meeting and noticing glaring discrepancies -- enough to warrant contacting the French version of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Commission des Operations de Bourse (COB).

After tallying the votes to 19 different resolutions, officials found an unusually high number of "abstentions," much more than the normal 3-5 percent for a given shareholder proposal. The votes Friday showed as many as 20 percent of the votes were abstentions.

Talking with some of the major shareholders after the meeting who supposedly abstained from some of the proposals (which in France is the same as voting "nay"), officials found a glaring discrepancy. Most of those tallied as abstentions had, in fact, voted for approval in many cases.

Anita Larsen, Vivendi spokesperson, said the tampering is a serious violation of the trust shareholders place with online voting, and officials will file against the perpetrators when they are caught.

"We're absolutely shocked about it," she said. "We do not know who did it, but we will file a criminal claim (against them), so they will be identified and tried. We are encouraging the major shareholders affected to file similarly and hope other, smaller shareholders do the same."

In all, more than 5,000 shareholders making up the voting power at Vivendi.

Vivendi officials are taking the hijacked voting system breach mostly seriously, given how the results of shareholder meetings can affect stock value, revenues and even the business goals of the industry giant going forward.

Security experts believe the alleged hackers used short-wave transmitters in the proximity of the Vivendi vote, using "detailed knowledge of the procedures and technical protocols of electronic voting," the release Sunday evening stated.

A meeting is scheduled for Monday to convene a shareholders meeting in early June, to resubmit the proposals. At this time, Larsen said officials aren't sure whether they will conduct another online vote at this time. If not, they will go back to the old method of paper votes via the mail.

Vivendi officials say the hack could have business-wide implications, throwing doubt on any company using electronic voting or thinking about such a move online.

A promised stock dividend has been put on hold until the Vivendi network inspection is complete.

The issue of cyber crime has taken an increasingly prominent role in the minds of the business world and governments across the globe. The European Union, addressing those concerns, last week proposed an all-encompassing cyber crime initiative, which would make the penalties for security breaches like the one at Vivendi last Friday severe.