January 8, 2020 / 6:38 PM / 21 days ago

UPDATE 1-Vivendi files request to suspend freeze on Mediaset stake

(Adds detail, background)

By Elvira Pollina and Stephen Jewkes

MILAN, Jan 8 (Reuters) - French media giant Vivendi has asked an Italian court to suspend a ruling forcing it to freeze two-thirds of its stake in Italian broadcaster Mediaset , a document showed on Wednesday.

Mediaset auditors said in a report Vivendi had filed a request with an Italian administrative court on Jan. 2 requesting suspension of the measure. Should the administrative court rule in favour of Vivendi’s request, it could further complicate efforts by Mediaset to push ahead with a corporate overhaul to create a pan-European TV champion.

Vivendi, led by billionaire Vincent Bollore, has challenged Mediaset’s plans on the grounds governance would give Mediaset’s main shareholder, the Berlusconi family, too much power.

“At the time of closing this report, the auditors have no news on the outcome of this request,” the report said.

Mediaset shareholders are due to meet on Friday to vote on governance tweaks to a Dutch holding company into which the Italian broadcaster aims to fold its Italian and Spanish businesses to pursue tie-ups with European peers.

Vivendi, which owns 23.9% of phone incumbent Telecom Italia , has been at loggerheads with the Milan-based group since pulling out of a deal to buy its pay-TV unit in 2016 and then building a hostile 28.8% stake.

In 2017 Italy’s communications watchdog said Vivendi’s stakes in Mediaset and Telecom Italia broke rules designed to prevent a concentration of power in the telecoms and media sectors, ordering it to cut one of the stakes below 10%.

To comply, Vivendi transferred just under 20% of its voting rights in Mediaset to a trust subsequently barred from voting at the Italian broadcaster’s shareholder meetings.

But in December, the EU Advocate General said the law leading to the freeze was a breach of European Union rules.

The European Court’s judges are not obliged to follow the advocate general’s opinions but they usually do. They would normally rule in two to four months after such an opinion is given.

Reporting by Elvira Pollina, writing by Stephen Jewkes, editing by Nick Macfie

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