Bayer is facing a mountain of challenges as it integrates Monsanto following a $63 billion deal in June 2018. (Photographer: Martin Leissl/Bloomberg)

Bayer Hires Firm to Probe Suspected Monsanto File in France

(Bloomberg) -- Bayer AG said it will appoint an external law firm to investigate a Monsanto project that French media said was designed to suppress criticism and lobby for approval of pesticides, including the controversial Roundup weedkiller.

Monsanto in 2016 kept secret scores on more than 200 politicians, journalists and agricultural leaders, Le Monde reported. A Paris prosecutor on Friday opened a preliminary inquiry into the file, whose existence was first reported by Le Monde and the France2 channel.

Bayer is facing a mountain of challenges as it integrates the U.S. agriculture giant that it bought last June for $63 billion. The German company has lost two costly U.S. court cases and faces many more from people claiming that Monsanto’s top-selling weedkiller, Roundup, caused cancer. Fears of more damage have wiped about 35 billion euros ($39 billion) off the company’s market value and led shareholders to issue a stinging rebuke of Bayer’s leadership.

The Monsanto campaign “is not the way Bayer seeks dialogue with society and stakeholders,” the company said in a statement. “We apologize for this behavior.” It said it has no indication that the preparation of the lists violated any legal provisions.

Even so, Bayer noted the accusations that lists of supportive and critical stakeholders drawn up by Monsanto may have violated ethical principles and legal regulations. Bayer said it will fully support the prosecutor’s office in France in its investigation. The law firm will inform all of the persons on the lists about the information collected.

Bayer also said it suspended cooperation with the external service providers involved. The Monsanto manager in charge of the project left the company shortly after Bayer acquired it, it said.

The shares fell as much as 1.7% in Frankfurt.

Bayer faces some 13,400 suits from people who claim their cancers are related to Roundup. The German company has insisted the weedkiller is safe to use.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.