PARIS/ROME Vivendi (VIV.PA) raised its stake in Mediaset (MS.MI) further on Thursday, to 28.8 percent, while Italian politicians voiced their concerns over what the French media group's intentions might be regarding the Italian TV broadcaster.
Vivendi's raid on Mediaset's shares heralds a potential showdown between billionaire businessmen Vincent Bollore (BOLL.PA), who heads up Vivendi, and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose family has a large stake in Mediaset.
Vivendi said in a statement on Thursday that it now controls 29.94 percent of Mediaset's voting rights along with 28.8 percent of the company's share capital - just below the 30 percent stake at which a full bid for Mediaset would be required.
Vivendi has accumulated more than a quarter of Mediaset's shares in recent days, last disclosing a stake of 25.75 percent earlier this week.
The move has angered Italy's government and escalated a spat between the two companies, which started after Vivendi backtracked on a deal that would have given it control of Mediaset's Premium pay TV arm.
Italian officials are concerned that Bollore, who has a stake of just under 25 percent in Telecom Italia (TLIT.MI) along with board representation, and is a key shareholder in Italian bank Mediobanca (MDBI.MI), could end up with even greater influence in Italy's corporate world.
Italy's industry minister said on Thursday that the government remained unhappy with Vivendi's aggressive stake-building in Mediaset, although he added this did not necessarily mean it planned to take action to try to block it.
"Our judgment remains basically negative but this doesn't mean we will take any ad hoc measures," Industry Minister Carlo Calenda told reporters in Rome, adding that Vivendi's behavior appeared to be "a bit too opaque."
Asked about Vivendi's latest increase in its shareholding, a Mediaset spokesman said the company had no comment to make as the move was expected.
Berlusconi's Fininvest family holding company, which owns a 38.3 percent stake in Mediaset, filed a complaint with Italy's financial markets regulator Consob this week alleging market abuse, and last week it lodged a criminal complaint alleging market manipulation.
Vivendi Chief Executive Arnaud de Puyfontaine is due to meet with the regulator in Rome on Friday to discuss the matter.
Mediaset's share price was down by 12.4 percent at 4 euros on Thursday following the industry minister's comments, while Vivendi's share price closed down 2.6 percent at 17.855 euros.
(Reporting by Massimiliano Di Giorgio in Rome and Sudip Kar-Gupta in Paris; Editing by Greg Mahlich)