MILAN (Reuters) - The trust that holds French media giant Vivendi’s (VIV.PA) 19.2% stake in Mediaset (MS.MI) has registered to vote on a planned restructuring at the Italian broadcaster, a source close to the matter said, in a move that could scupper the deal.
Mediaset shareholders will meet on Sept. 4 to vote on a plan to merge the group’s Italian and Spanish businesses into a Dutch holding company, providing a platform for building other alliances as part of its pan-European growth strategy.
Vivendi has declared its opposition to the deal because it includes a governance structure that would help Fininvest, the holding company of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, to tighten its grip over the broadcaster.
So far, the Mediaset board has rejected requests from the Simon Fiduciaria trust to vote at its shareholder meetings, saying it was not entitled to do so.
A Simon Fiduciaria spokesman declined to comment on its voting plans.
Mediaset shares closed 1.8% down at 2.79 euros on Friday, slightly underperforming the Milan market .FTITLMS.
Vivendi and Mediaset have been at odds since the French company withdrew from an 800 million euro ($891.5 million) agreement to buy Mediaset’s loss-making pay-TV business in 2016 and later built a hostile 28.8 percent stake in the Italian group.
The failed sale prompted a bitter and protracted legal row between the groups.
Vivendi was forced to transfer most of its stake in Mediaset to the Simon Fiduciaria trust to comply with an Italian law preventing companies from holding significant stakes in both telecoms and media businesses. Vivendi is also Telecom Italia’s (TLIT.MI) top investor.
Last week Vivendi filed a petition to preserve its right to vote at the key meeting on Wednesday after Mediaset barred it from voting at a shareholder meeting in April. A ruling on Vivendi’s request is expected before Wednesday.
The French media group, with 9.99% direct voting rights, does not have sufficient weight to block the Mediaset reorganisation on its own but it could scupper the plan if allowed to vote with its entire stake.
Reporting by Elvira Pollina; Editing by David Goodman