FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Bayer said on Sunday it was hiring an external law firm to investigate French media complaints that Monsanto, the US seed maker it took over last year, had compiled a file of influential personalities.
The German life sciences and pharmaceuticals group said that, following an internal review, it understood that this initiative had raised concerns and criticism.
“This is not the way Bayer seeks dialogue with society and stakeholders. We apologise for this behaviour,” Bayer said in a statement. It added, however, that there was no indication that compiling the lists was illegal.
French prosecutors opened an inquiry on Friday after newspaper Le Monde filed a complaint alleging that Monsanto had compiled a file of 200 names, including journalists and lawmakers, in the hope of influencing their positions on pesticides.
The French investigation is the latest fallout from Bayer’s $63 billion takeover of Monsanto. It already faces potentially heavy costs from US class-action lawsuits in which plaintiffs argue that its Roundup weedkiller causes cancer.
Bayer shares have shed more than 40 percent since a first adverse US judgment on Roundup last 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 last month, with a majority voting against ratifying the executive board’s business conduct in 2018.
Bayer said its law firm would inform all of the individuals on the Monsanto list about the information collected about them. Bayer would also “fully support” the French prosecutor’s investigation.