By Stuart Thomson
Vivendi has achieved a partial victory on one front of its ongoing legal battle with Mediaset, with a Milan court ruling that its acquisition of a large stake in the Italian media group was not illegitimate and did not constitute unfair competition.
Mediaset has claimed that Vivendi took advantage of a fall in its share price – which it alleges the French group engineered by abandoning a commitment to purchase pay TV unit Mediaset Premium – to acquire the 29 per cent stake in Mediaset proper that it currently holds.
The court noted that the Italian media law that Vivendi had allegedly breached by acquiring Mediaset shares while also holding a stake in Telecom Italia has been declared contrary to European law.
Mediaset had been seeking €3 billion(US$3.6billion) in damages over Vivendi’s move to unilaterally pull out of the 2016 deal that would have seen it acquire Premium and take a smaller stake in Mediaset itself. The Berlusconi family’s investment vehicle Fininvest had also been seeking damages of €2.5 billion, a claim that was also rejected.
Instead the Milan court awarded it €1.75 million in compensation for Vivendi’s failure to meet obligations made at the time of the agreement.
Vivendi was also fined €1.7 million for deliberately moving to block EC antitrust clearance of Mediaset’s planned merger with its Spanish arm.
Seeking to put a positive gloss on the ruling, Mediaset “expressed satisfaction” with the court’s confirmation that Vivendi had breached certain contractual obligations.
The Italian media outfit said it would appeal over the amount awarded. Mediaset also said it planned to highlight evidence brought in a separate criminal case against Vivendi’s then chairman Vincent Bolloré and CEO Arnaud de Puyfontaine that alleged illegal market manipulation by the pair – which it says emerged after the expiry of a deadline to submit evidence in the civil case.