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Havas Denies Accounting Irregularities

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BOSTON Havas on Thursday said in a terse statement that "it formally denies rumors that circulated in the financial markets this morning regarding alleged accounting irregularities."

The Paris-based holding company went on to say: "As a result the group has today requested that the AMF [French authorities] immediately launch an investigation into possible manipulation of the Havas share price."

Havas officials could not immediately be reached. Havas shares closed yesterday on the Nasdaq exchange at $6.50. The 52-week high was $6.62, while the low during the same period was $2.26.

The company is parent to Arnold, Media Planning Group and Euro RSCG Worldwide.

Separately, Jim Heekin has been named chairman and chief executive of Havas' Euro RSCG agency network, succeeding Bob Schmetterer, who is retiring after 33 years in advertising, the company said on Wednesday in a statement.

Heekin, a former McCann-Erickson WorldGroup CEO who joined Euro RSCG as president and COO in October, is immediately responsible for all network operations. "From the moment he arrived in the group four months ago he has demonstrated his capacity to be a respected leader, listened to by both his teams and our clients," said Havas CEO Alain de Pouzilhac in a statement. Heekin said he will not seek a replacement for the president and COO posts.

In the same statement, Schmetterer, 60, said of his departure, "My decision to retire from advertising is not a sudden one. My wife Stacy and I have been discussing it for the past couple of years and more so over the past several months ... I made the final decision over the Christmas holidays." Schmetterer had been Euro RSCG CEO for seven years and COO of Paris-based holding company Havas for the last 12 months.

Heekin, 54, was dismissed in February 2003 from the WorldGroup after a series of financial miscues, mainly involving McCann's European operations, resulted in a $183 million accounting imbalance at parent Interpublic Group.

—with David Kaplan