PARIS/LONDON Vivendi (VIV.PA) mandated BNP Paribas (BNPP.PA) and Natixis (CNAT.PA) in an 800 million-euro ($835 million) raid on Mediaset (MS.MI) to seize a 20 percent stake in the Italian broadcaster earlier this week, according to two sources close to the matter.
The French media giant, led by billionaire Vincent Bollore, first asked BNP in mid-November to gradually buy up to 3 percent of Mediaset shares on the market, resulting in a first mandatory disclosure after market close on Monday, the sources said.
Vivendi then asked Natixis on Tuesday to buy an additional 17 percent stake in Mediaset, without any use of stock derivatives.
The two transactions turned Vivendi into Mediaset's second-biggest shareholder after Fininvest, the holding company controlled by former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, owner of 39.8 percent of Mediaset's voting rights.
The stakebuildings totaled about 800 million euros in value, the sources said.
"All acquisitions were made directly on the market and in cash. There were no contract and no derivatives," one of the sources said.
The speed of the raid had fueled market speculation about the possible use by Vivendi of stock derivatives, including options, to discreetly build up its stake.
The French group's move into Mediaset's capital only aggravated a months-long feud between the two groups, which have been at loggerheads since July, when Vivendi backed out of an agreement that would have given it control of Mediaset's pay-TV division Premium and handed the two firms 3.5 percent stakes in each other.
Milan prosecutors on Wednesday opened a preliminary investigation into alleged market manipulation after Fininvest filed a complaint over Vivendi's stake-building, a judicial source told Reuters.
No individual or company is currently targeted by the investigation, which is against unknown persons, the source added.
Natixis declined to comment and BNP Paribas was not immediately available for comment.
For a graphic on the Berlusconi battle, click here: here
(Reporting by Gwenaelle Barzic and Mathieu Rosemain in Paris, Pamela Barbaglia in London)