Bayer hires law firm to investigate claims Monsanto kept influential stakeholder file

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Bayer hires law firm to investigate claims Monsanto kept influential stakeholder file

German multinational group Bayer has said it will hire an external law firm to investigate French media allegations that Monsanto, the U.S. seed maker it took over last year, may have violated ethical principles and legal regulations with its reported file of "influential personalities".

French newspaper Le Monde has claimed that the file, drawn up in 2016, lists 200 names of various journalists and lawmakers who Monsanto hoped to influence regarding pesticides.

Shortly after the publication's accusation, French prosecutors opened an inquiry on Friday.

Following an internal review, Bayer said it understood that Monsanto's initiative had raised concerns and criticism.

“This is not the way Bayer seeks dialogue with society and stakeholders. We apologize for this behavior,” Bayer was quoted as saying.

It added, however, that there was no indication that compiling such lists is illegal.

Besides investigating the Monsanto project, the law firm will also inform all of the persons in the company file of the information collected about them.

Bayer says it will fully support the public prosecutor's office in France in its investigations.

Meanwhile, Matthias Berninger, the company's new head of public affairs and sustainability, has been tasked with evaluating this issue internally.

The company notes he will also assess the behavior of the internal and external parties involved, stating: "Our highest priority is to create transparency."

As an immediate measure, Bayer has suspended its cooperation with the involved external service providers for the time being.

It stresses that the Monsanto manager responsible for the issue had left the company soon after the takeover.

"Bayer stands for openness and fair dealings with all interest groups. We do not tolerate unethical behavior in our company. Of course, this also applies to data protection regulations in all jurisdictions in which we operate," it says.

This investigation is merely the latest fallout from Bayer’s US$63 billion takeover of Monsanto. It already faces potentially heavy costs from U.S. class-action lawsuits in which plaintiffs argue that its Roundup weedkiller causes cancer.

Bayer shares have dropped more than 40% since the first adverse U.S. judgment on Roundup last August, leaving the company with a market capitalization smaller than the price it paid for Monsanto.

Shareholders delivered a rare rebuke to CEO Werner Baumann’s management team at Bayer’s annual general meeting last month, with a majority voting against ratifying the executive board’s business conduct in 2018.

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