France’s court of appeal has upheld a ruling by French financial regulator AMF (Autorité des marchés financiers) against the Bloomberg news agency but lowered its fine from €5m to €3.m. The fine was imposed action after the US agency published a hoax press release that hit the share price of the Vinci construction group.
The case relates to a story that Bloomberg News ran in November 2016, which led the French contractor to file a legal complaint with AMF. The authority announced in December 2019 that it had imposed the fine “for disseminating information that [Bloomberg] ought to have known to be false, and which was likely to secure Vinci’s share price at an abnormal or artificial level”.
The incident happened after two journalists on the Speed Desk of the company’s Paris office published a number of dispatches on Bloomberg terminals based on a fraudulent news release entitled “Vinci undertakes an audit of its consolidated accounts for 2015 and the first half of 2016”. The dispatches also claimed that the company, the world’s largest construction group outside China, had fired its chief financial officer.
Responding to the appeal court’s ruling, a Bloomberg spokesperson said: “Our journalists, among others, simply reported on what appeared to be newsworthy information and were the victims of a sophisticated hoax, the perpetrator of which has not yet been found.
“We hoped that the court would recognise the issues of press freedom at stake. We are disappointed the court has not overturned the original decision and will consider our options on appeal.”
The hoaxers used three separate false press releases and some basic impersonation tactics, including a fake Vinci website.
Vinci shares fell as much as 18% after the hoax statement, although they recovered quickly after the company issued a denial.
The AMF said it had took action against Bloomberg because it had published the statement without verifying it.
Image: The hoax temporarily wiped €5bn off Vinci’s share price (Unsplash/Jamie Street)