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Bayer says Monsanto likely kept files on influential people across Europe

Bayer on Monday, May 13, 2019 said its Monsanto unit, which is being investigated by French prosecutors for compiling files of influential people such as journalists in France, likely did the same across Europe.

Matthias Berninger
Matthias Berninger

French prosecutors said on Friday that they had opened an inquiry after newspaper Le Monde filed a complaint alleging that Monsanto, acquired by Bayer for $63 billion in 2018, had kept a file of 200 names.

They said that the names include journalists and lawmakers in hopes of influencing positions on pesticides.

On Sunday, Bayer acknowledged the existence of the files, saying it does not believe any laws were broken but that it will ask an external law firm to investigate.

“It’s safe to say that other countries in Europe were affected by lists.

“I assume that all EU member states could potentially be affected,” Matthias Berninger, Bayer’s head of public affairs and sustainability, told journalists.

While he did not say there had been any illegal activity and that it was up to the external law firm to evaluate the conduct, Berninger said there were signs Monsanto had not played fairly in the use of private data.

“There have been a number of cases where as they would say in football, not the ball was played but the man, or woman, was tackled.

“When you collect non-publicly available data about individuals a Rubicon is clearly crossed,” regardless of whether data privacy laws were actually violated,” Berninger, who joined Bayer in January, said on a conference call.

He repeated an apology issued by Bayer over the weekend.

French public-sector research institutes Inra and CNRS said they would file criminal complaints over mishandling of personal data, after finding that some of their researchers and executives featured on the Monsanto stakeholder lists.

According to Bayer, in its initial statement on Sunday, currently, we have no indication that the preparation of the lists under discussion violated any legal provisions.

“Bayer will ask an external law firm to investigate the project Monsanto commissioned and evaluate the allegations.

“The law firm will also inform all of the persons on the lists of the information collected about them.

“Work with the PR agencies that were commissioned by Monsanto for the project at the time has been suspended,” it added.

Bayer already faces potentially heavy costs from U.S. class-action lawsuits in which plaintiffs argue that Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller causes cancer.

Bayer shares have shed over 40 per cent since a first adverse U.S. judgment on Roundup in August, leaving the company with a market capitalisation 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 in April, with a majority voting against ratifying the executive board’s business conduct in 2018. 

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