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The German chemicals giant has promised a probe into allegations it created a list of 200 French journalists and lawmakers who were critical of its US subsidiary. France wants to know if the data was collected illegally.
Germany's Bayer, which bought the US agrochemical firm Monsanto, issued an apology on Sunday following reports that its American subsidiary drew up a list of those critical of the firm's practices.
"After an initial analysis, we understand that such a project raised concerns and criticism," Bayer said in a statement. "This is not the way Bayer would seek dialogue with different stakeholders and society, so we apologize."
The Leverkusen-headquartered firm said it would hire a law firm to carry out an external investigation into the matter.
The French prosecutor said Friday it had opened a probe after newspaper Le Monde filed a complaint.
The French daily alleges that Monsanto built up a file of about 200 names, including journalists and lawmakers who are skeptical about the company and its products, in the hope of influencing their positions on pesticides.
The charge is that the information was collected illegally.
Paris police are investigating the possible "collection of personal information by fraudulent, unfair or illicit means."
Le Monde and one of its journalists complained that they were on the list drawn up since 2016 and allegedly leaked by US public relations firm FleishmanHillard.
The name of France's former Environment Minister Segolene Royal is also said to be on the list. She told AFP it "says a lot about the methods of lobbyists ... they carry out spying, infiltration, seek to influence, sometimes financially, I imagine."
PR firm FleishmanHillard said on Friday it would investigate the allegations.
French public broadcaster France Televisions announced Sunday that it would also file charges.
Lawsuits over Monsanto's Roundup
Monsanto produces the broad-spectrum glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup. The firm and new owner Bayer deny that Roundup causes cancer.
However, last August, a US jury found Bayer liable because Monsanto had not warned users of alleged cancer risks linked to Roundup.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a new decision in April that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, which is made by Monsanto, does not cause cancer or other health problems if used according to instruction labels.
Bayer Chief Executive Officer Werner Baumann is facing increased shareholder pressure over the litigation it inherited from Monsanto. It is the named defendant in US lawsuits concerning Roundup filed by 13,400 people.
Bayer shares have fallen about 40% since the $63 billion (€56 billion) Monsanto purchase was completed last June.
mm, jm/ng (Reuters, AFP)