US regulators on Wednesday succeeded in their efforts to freeze millions of dollars in payments to Jean-Marie Messier, the former chief executive of Vivendi Universal.The Securities and Exchange Commission, the US’s chief financial regulator, won an order from a court in New York to stop Mr Messier receiving his $23.3m golden parachute. The money, which has been the subject of legal battles and political inquiries in the US and France, has now been impounded pending inquiries into wrongdoing at the company during Mr Messier’s tenure.

The SEC now has 45 days to bring a case against Mr Messier or apply for a further freeze.

Crucially, lawyers familiar with the regulator’s methods suggested that Wednesday’s move implied the SEC could be ready to bring the case by December.

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act – last year’s sweeping US corporate governance legislation – grants new powers to the SEC to help aggrieved investors recoup funds from companies and individuals.

Messier scored his own court victory over the money only last week.

A separate US court upheld his contract and dealt a blow to the debt-laden French media group which had asked the New York State Supreme Court to overrule a US arbitration panel decision that approved the award.

But the SEC’s intervention, in an emergency hearing brought forward from next week, could make the validity of the contract irrelevant.

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