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Havas, the French advertising group, is facing a bruising legal battle with Alain Cayzac, its head of communications, over his claim for a big severance pay-off even though he resigned voluntarily.

The dispute between Havas and one of its longest-serving executives
is likely to draw attention to the generous contracts and “golden parachutes” enjoyed by many of the senior executives at the financially struggling advertising group.

It could also exacerbate the war of words between Alain de Pouzilhac, the former chief executive, and Vincent Bolloré, the corporate raider who took over as chairman after buying a 24 per cent stake and taking control at the group’s last annual meeting.

Mr Cayzac’s dispute, which he is threatening to take to court, could be the first of many for Havas. Mr Bolloré is furious that more than a dozen executives in Mr de Pouzilhac’s team agreed lucrative “conscience clauses”, granting them big severance packages for any change of control, shortly before the showdown at last summer’s annual meeting.

Mr Cayzac resigned after Mr de Pouzilhac, his close ally, departed in June.

But since then, he has been in talks over his claim for a big pay-off under a contract agreed in 1992 when he became chairman of RSCG, the group’s main creative advertising agency, which he co-founded.

He says his contract contains a “conscience clause” allowing him to treat the departure of Mr de Pouzilhac, his former boss, as a de facto sacking of him and to receive compensation thought to be worth about €3m ($3.6m).

Philippe Wahl, appointed by Mr Bolloré as Havas’s new chief executive, is refusing to pay the sum demanded by Mr Cayzac. Mr Wahl is thought to object to the use of a “conscience clause”, normally reserved for journalists concerned about a change in ownership of their publication.

Mr de Pouzilhac received a “golden parachute” from Havas of about €8m including non-compete compensation.

Jacques Hérail, the former finance director, is understood to have granted himself a “conscience clause”, giving him the right to €6m in severance pay, that is also being blocked by Havas. Mr Hérail was sacked for failing to reveal such clauses to the board after Mr Bolloré took over.

Mr Bolloré and Havas both declined to comment.

Havas slumped to a loss of €389m in 2003, before inching back into the black with a €52m profit in 2004.

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