The hoax press releases that had a dramatic effect on French contractor Vinci’s share price last week appears to have been an elaborately executed plot, although the company said that its IT systems had not been hacked.
In giving more information of the bogus press releases that caused a temporary fall of 18% in its share price, Vinci said it was filing a complaint “against persons unknown”.
It said that on 22 November, 2016, at 16.05, Vinci was impersonated with the sending out of false information to certain media outlets.
It said the source of the false allegations was unknown, and referred, among other things, to a revision of Vinci’s consolidated accounts for the financial year 2015 and for the first half of 2016, as a result of alleged accounting irregularities. They alleged that this had resulted in the dismissal of the chief financial officer.
Vinci said that the first false press release was followed by two further false press releases. One was issuing a partial denial, and the other contained an anonymous “pseudo-claim” of responsibility, according to Vinci.
It said that “having been relayed too rapidly by several press agencies, this false information had a substantial impact on Vinci’s share price as soon as it was broadcast”.
Vinci reiterated its denial of these allegations and confirmed all of the financial information distributed to the financial markets to date, particularly with regard to forecast revenue and profits for 2016 and its expected financial situation.
It said that at this stage of its investigations, the group had not suffered any intrusion of its IT systems. Vinci’s staff were said to have observed all the procedures for the provision of information to the AMF (Autorité des Marchés Financiers) – the independent public authority responsible for ensuring that savings invested in financial products are protected – the financial markets and the press.
Vinci said it had, therefore, not been the victim of computer hacking, but of impersonation. In fact, it said that email addresses including Vinci’s name were used to mislead the media. The names of the group’s communications director and of the head of the press department were also misused.
Finally, a false Vinci website was created on which a downloadable version of the first false press release was published.
The AMF said it considered the case to be “a serious market dysfunction” for which it would endeavour to find out who was responsible.
It said, “This is a case of the dissemination of false information, which prompts the AMF to carry out an investigation. It will also be necessary to verify who may have taken advantage of such an initiative through a possible manipulation of prices.
“The AMF will also be working with all the entities involved so as to limit this type of risk in the future, and its impact on the financial markets.”
Vinci said the events of 22 November unfolded with the distribution of a first false press release to editorial offices at 16.05. At 16.06 to 16.07, the Bloomberg and Dow Jones news agencies picked up elements of the false press release. From 16.10 onwards, the group’s spokesperson denied the false information to the press agencies. Vinci said this official denial was immediately repeated by the agencies.
At 16.15, trading in the shares was suspended after a fall of more than 18% in the share price. Trading in the shares resumed at 16.19, and the price went back up to a level close to but lower than that recorded before the distribution of the first false press release.
Vinci said that at 16.27, there was the distribution of a second false press release containing a partial denial, which was followed at 16.49 by Vinci’s written denial on its website.
At 17.02, there was a written denial to the AMF, financial markets and press, and at 17.15, the group’s legal director called the AMF. The distribution of the third and final false press release containing a “pseudo-claim” of responsibility came at 17.35.
Based on this evidence, Vinci said it had decided “to file a complaint against persons unknown”.