France fines Bloomberg news agency €5m over Vinci hoax

France’s markets watchdog has fined US news agency Bloomberg €5m after it published a fake press release that triggered a $5bn fall in the share price of Vinci on 22 November 2016.

The hoax, which alleged that the French construction group had fired its chief financial officer following accounting irregularities, caused a 20% drop in Vinci’s share price in less than five minutes.

The Autorité des Marches Financiers (AMF) said in a statement yesterday that Bloomberg should have known the information in the press release was false.

The "news" was passed on in a number of reports by two journalists at the company’s Speed Desk bureau in Paris, which specialises in sending investors real time alerts about market-sensitive information.  

The authority noted that the journalists had passed on the information within a minute of receiving the fraudulent release, without taking any steps to verify it, leading to a "brutal" fall in the company’s value.

Bloomberg issued a response saying it "regretted that AMF did not find and punish the perpetrator of the hoax, and chose instead to penalise a media outlet that was doing its very best to report on what appeared to be newsworthy information".

Vinci’s share price recovered after it released a statement saying "Vinci denies formally all the information contained in this fake press release and is investigating all legal actions in furtherance thereof". By close of trading, the company’s shares were 3.8% down on the day.

The hoax was elaborately planned. The release was sent from a fake email address and included a link to a website that imitated Vinci’s official site and listed a phone number for Paul-Alexis Bouquet, the company’s spokesman.

A man who identified himself as "M Bouquet" then answered a call made by Dow Jones Newswires and confirmed the fake statement. The phone line was deactivated later in the afternoon.

The statement was then apparently confirmed by a partial denial, also bogus.

An anonymous email was later sent to media outlets claiming the attack was in retaliation for damages done by Vinci to the environment in France and Russia, and to protest against the company’s treatment of migrant workers in Qatar.

Image: The Paris headquarters of the AMF (Albert Bergonzo/CC BY-SA 4.0)

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