French Authorities Detain Former Havas Chairman Vincent Bolloré for Alleged Corruption

Billionaire denies claims that Havas bribed African officials

Earlier this month, the elder Bollore (pictured) announced that his son Yannick would take over both Vivendi and Havas. Getty Images
Headshot of Patrick Coffee

Less than a week after announcing that his son Yannick will soon lead both his media empire Vivendi and his marketing network Havas, French billionaire Vincent Bolloré has reportedly been detained by police over allegations that he used the agency network to bribe African government officials nearly a decade ago.

According to a story first reported by France’s Le Monde this morning, Bolloré is currently in the custody of French authorities for questioning over claims that his company, Bolloré Group, actively facilitated corruption in Togo and Guinea in 2009 and 2010.

The report holds that Bolloré Group—which was, until last summer, Havas’s largest shareholder—allegedly helped officials in these countries in exchange for contracts that directly benefited Bollore SA, the single biggest operator of shipping ports in Africa.

In a response, the Bolloré Group confirmed that it is under investigation, stating that the allegation was made by an unnamed former employee who was recently sentenced to nearly four years in prison “for misappropriation of assets.”

“Its former subsidiary, SDV Africa, did not engage in any illegal actions and the Bolloré Group reaffirms that these communication services were conducted in full transparency,” the statement continued in reference to the services in question. According to a later report by Bloomberg, Havas allegedly provided free or heavily discounted “communications advice” to politicians running for reelection nearly a decade ago.

The Group’s statement denies each of these claims.

“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,” said Bolloré Group’s statement. “The hearing of its executives should provide the judicial authorities with useful clarification regarding these issues that have been assessed by an independent expert. This expertise led to the conclusion that these transactions fully complied with all laws and regulations.”

Regarding the specific claims made in this report, the statement continued, “Bollore Group won the concession in Togo in 2001 long before it started to invest in Havas. In Guinea, Bolloré Group won the concession in 2011 following the failure of the winner of the tender (Bolloré Group came in second in the bidding process) which was recognized before the presidential election.”

“Attempting to link the attribution of a port concession with communication services translates a great misunderstanding of this economic sector and economic activity in general,” it read.

Spokespeople for Havas declined to comment on the news. Representatives for Vivendi also referred to the Bolloré Group statement, telling Adweek that this matter does not concern their business.

No charges have been filed against Bolloré at this time.

In last week’s earnings call, the elder Bolloré announced that his son would soon take over as chairman of Vivendi, which owns such brands as Universal Music, Canal and Daily Motion. Yannick officially became global CEO of Havas Creative Group in summer 2017 with the departure of Andrew Bennett, who later went to Bloomberg.

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@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.