Well, the European press is having a field day with this one.
Just a week after his abrupt resignation as chairman of the Vivendi advisory board, French business-magnate Vincent Bollore was detained by police in a Paris suburb Tuesday as part of a broad corruption investigation, according to numerous reports.
Bollore, the father of Havas CEO Yannick Bollore, runs a family-business empire that spans communications, shipping and logistics. Over a decade ago, he waged a successful proxy battle against Havas management, effectively taking control of the company. Yannick became CEO in 2013.
Last year, Bollore engineered the merger of Havas into the French entertainment giant Vivendi, also controlled by Bollore. Yannick stepped into the chairman spot there when his father stepped down last week.
The corruption probe is looking into contracts that Bollore Group won in 2009 and 2010 to run shipping ports located in two African countries, Togo and Guinea, and whether Bollore-related entities corrupted public officials in efforts to gain those contracts.
According to a report from France 24, Bollore director general Gilles Alix and Havas senior manager Phillippe Dorent were also taken into custody for questioning.
Investigators are said to be looking at communications work that was done by Dorent on behalf of the leaders of both Guinea and Togo. It was shortly after Guinean President Alpha Conde won an election that a contract with a Bollore competitor to run one of the country’s ports was abruptly cancelled and a new contract was awarded to Bollore.
Bollore has denied any wrongdoing, and Tuesday issued a lengthy statement. It said the investigation was based on claims by a former employee now serving jail time for stealing from the company.
As for the proffered communications services, “Bollore Group reaffirms that these communication services were conducted in full transparency,” and “these transactions fully complied with all laws and regulations.”
The statement added: “For more than 50 years, Havas has brought its expertise in communications to political campaigns around the world in full compliance with the law and regulation and transparency standards.”
And the company’s transport and logistics unit “has been investing in Africa and in port concessions long before Bollore Group took control of Havas.”
Bollore also asserted in its statement that the contract for the Guinean port was awarded only after the predecessor “failed” to comply with the terms of its own contract.
“Attempting to link the attribution of a port concession with communication services translates [to] a great misunderstanding of this economic sector and economic activity in general,” the company stated. “Bollore Group executives welcome this opportunity to fully cooperate with the judicial authorities to restore the truth about those facts.”
This sounds like a story with legs. Can’t wait to see how it unfolds.