September 22, 2019 / 3:56 PM / 25 days ago

Vivendi set to widen legal battle against Mediaset beyond Italy-sources

MILAN, Sept 22 (Reuters) - Vivendi is taking steps to widen its legal battle against Mediaset beyond Italy, in a move that indicates the French media group has not liquidated its stake in the Italian broadcaster, two sources close to the matter said.

A deadline expired at midnight on Saturday for Vivendi to exercise the right to liquidate its stake in Mediaset in light of a corporate overhaul that will see the Italian broadcaster merge its domestic and Spanish businesses under a Dutch holding company.

Vivendi on Sunday declined to comment on whether or not it had exercised its withdrawal right as a shareholder.

However, the plan to broaden the legal front by filing suits against Mediaset also in Spain and the Netherlands indicates Vivendi has chosen not to sell the stake and instead opted for sticking with a court battle, the sources said.

Mediaset and Vivendi have been locked in a legal battle since falling out over a failed pay-TV deal back in 2016.

After the aborted sale, the French conglomerate owned by billionaire Vincent Bollore built a 29% stake in Mediaset - a holding considered illegitimate by the group controlled by the family of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Despite Vivendi's opposition, Mediaset this month won shareholder approval to create a pan-European media group in a bid to pursue continental alliances with rivals and fend off growing competition from streaming services such as Netflix or Amazon Prime Video.

Vivendi, which has plans of its owns to become a European media powerhouse, at the time vowed to challenge the overhaul in court.

Shares in Mediaset on Friday closed at 2.761 euros each, slightly below the price of 2.77 euros at which Vivendi was entitled to sell its stake back to Mediaset had it decided to head for the door.

However, selling the stake would have translated into a loss of around 320 million euros for the French group.

Some sources have said in the past Bollore might prefer to stay on as an investor in the hope that court rulings in his favour could eventually allow him to increase his sway over Mediaset. (Reporting by Elvira Pollina in Milan, additional reporting by Gwenaelle Barzic in Paris, writing by Valentina Za, editing by Deepa Babington)

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