Berlusconi media empire looking to fend off French takeover

AP News
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Posted: Dec 15, 2016 7:09 AM
Berlusconi media empire looking to fend off French takeover

ROME (AP) — Shares in Silvio Berlusconi's Mediaset empire were volatile Thursday after the Italian government suggested it wouldn't accept a hostile takeover by France's Vivendi media group.

Trading in Mediaset was halted twice on the Milan stock exchange Thursday morning for losses that reached nearly 8 percent before shares recovered around midday.

Vivendi, which owns France's Canal+ pay-TV operator and Universal Music Group, confirmed late Wednesday it had acquired a 20 percent stake in Berlusconi's television and publishing group. At the start of the week, its stake was little over 3 percent.

Mediaset holding company Fininvest responded by increasing its stake in Mediaset to nearly 39 percent and lodging a complaint with Milan prosecutors alleging market manipulation. Mediaset has accused Vivendi of taking advantage of the 30 percent drop in Mediaset's share value after Vivendi backed out of a plan to buy its Premium unit over the summer.

Mediaset has already taken Vivendi to court in Milan to try to recover 570 million euros in losses.

Italy's economic development minister, Carlo Calenda, said that while Italy respects the rules of the market, Vivendi's move on Mediaset "doesn't appear to be the most appropriate way to proceed" to boost Vivendi's presence in Italy.

He said foreign investment is always welcome, but that in such a strategic field as mass media "the way in which one proceeds isn't irrelevant."

By early afternoon in Milan, shares in Mediaset were down 1.8 percent at 3.55 euros.

Mediaset isn't the only Berlusconi asset that has caught the eye of foreign investors.

Fininvest is in final negotiations to sell Berlusconi's beloved AC Milan soccer club to a group of Chinese investors. The deal with Sino-Europe Sports, now expected to close in March, values Milan at 740 million euros (about $800 million).