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Bayer : Counters Accusations Involving Monsanto Weedkiller

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09/06/2019 | 02:49am EDT

By Ruth Bender

BERLIN -- Monsanto Co.'s public-relations tactics in Europe didn't break the law, according to a report commissioned by Bayer AG, which continues to battle fallout from its acquisition of the U.S. agrochemical company.

The German chemicals and pharmaceuticals group said a law firm had examined allegations about Monsanto's listing of critics of the main ingredient of its Roundup weedkillers and found no wrongdoing.

Bayer has been in crisis mode since closing the Monsanto deal in 2018, with its share price falling sharply. In the past year, it has lost three jury trials alleging that Roundup causes cancer. Bayer is also facing bans in Europe on glyphosate, the weedkiller's main ingredient, due to perceived environmental risks.

A separate front opened in May after French prosecutors launched an investigation following local media reports that Monsanto and a public-relations firm had drawn up lists in 2016 of hundreds of influential French personalities, some of whom had raised concerns about possible risks posed by Monsanto's products.

While compiling so-called stakeholder lists is common practice in public relations, the media reports said they included sensitive personal information that wasn't publicly available -- the storage of which without permission can be illegal in some European Union countries. However, Bayer said Thursday that law firm Sidley Austin LLP had examined the allegations and found no evidence that the lists were illegal.

Monsanto has long been a lightning rod for environmentalists in Europe, who see it as a symbol for practices they oppose, from the genetic engineering of crops to the intensive use of pesticide in agriculture.

Bayer, which inherited that reputational baggage, has appealed the Roundup court verdicts in the U.S., insisting the product is safe when used with proper precautions. It has also criticized bans on glyphosate in Germany and Austria as unscientific.

As part of its effort to clear its name, Bayer hired Matthias Berninger, a former Green Party politician in Germany, as its head of public affairs and sustainability.

People familiar with the matter said Mr. Berninger caused consternation among former Monsanto employees in the U.S. when he publicly apologized for the company's stakeholder lists in May before it was established whether the practice was illegal.

Sidley Austin said it assessed over 2.4 million documents in relation to the lists, which included 1,500 people, mostly in the EU -- from journalists to officials working in EU institutions -- but also in the U.S.

In its 49-page report, the law firm said the lists were "detailed, methodical, and designed to strongly advocate Monsanto's positions to stakeholders and to the public." But the firm said it found no evidence of illegal surveillance of personal hobbies or leisure activities or information that went beyond what was in the public domain.

The German Council for Public Relations in July also concluded that there was no wrongdoing.

The French prosecutor's office couldn't be reached to comment on the status of its probe.

A Bayer spokesman said the French prosecutor's investigations were ongoing. The company said it hasn't been presented with formal allegations or charges from any data-protection authority or other body, either in France or elsewhere in the EU.

Write to Ruth Bender at Ruth.Bender@wsj.com

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Financials (EUR)
Sales 2019 46 036 M
EBIT 2019 7 933 M
Net income 2019 3 131 M
Debt 2019 37 298 M
Yield 2019 4,24%
P/E ratio 2019 21,4x
P/E ratio 2020 13,8x
EV / Sales2019 2,17x
EV / Sales2020 2,05x
Capitalization 62 695 M
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