World News

Italian court turns down Vivendi’s request to suspend freeze on Mediaset stake

MILAN (Reuters) – An Italian court has thrown out a request by Vivendi <VIV.PA> to suspend a ruling forcing it to freeze two-thirds of its stake in Italian broadcaster Mediaset <MS.MI>, a court document showed on Thursday.

The decision comes a day before a Mediaset shareholder meeting to vote on governance tweaks to a Dutch holding company set up by Mediaset to pursue tie-ups with European peers..

Vivendi opposes Mediaset’s plans on the grounds the changes would give Mediaset’s main shareholder, the Berlusconi family, too much power.

In 2017 an Italian watchdog said Vivendi’s holdings in Mediaset and Telecom Italia <TLIT.MI> broke competition rules and ordered it to cut one of the stakes to below 10%.

To comply, Vivendi transferred two-thirds of its almost 30% voting rights in Mediaset to a trust, which was subsequently barred from voting at the Italian broadcaster’s shareholder meetings.

The administrative court (TAR) ruling showed Vivendi had asked it to suspend the injunction ahead of Friday’s meeting on the grounds it expected Mediaset to exclude the trust.

But the judge argued, without giving further details, that there was no reason for any immediate decision since Vivendi was not at risk of irreparable damage.

According to the document, the TAR will convene a closed-door hearing on Jan. 15 to decide on the merits of the case.

In December, the EU Advocate General said the law leading to the freeze was a breach of European Union rules and last week Vivendi filed a request for the ruling to be suspended.

The French group, which owns 23.9% of Telecom Italia, has been at loggerheads with Mediaset since pulling out of a deal to buy its pay-TV unit in 2016 and then building a hostile 28.8% stake.

Mediaset and Vivendi did not comment on the TAR ruling.

(Reporting by Domenico Lusi and Elvira Pollina, writing by Stephen Jewkes; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)