World News

Mediaset set to win more time to complete merger of Italy, Spain units: sources

MILAN (Reuters) – Mediaset <MS.MI> will submit revised plans to merge its Italian and Spanish broadcasting units <TL5.MC> under a Dutch entity to authorities in the Netherlands, securing a six-month extension to complete the project, two sources familiar with the matter said.

The extension could help the group deal with any potential delay triggered by shareholder Vivendi’s <VIV.PA> legal challenges to the merger.

Mediaset, controlled by the family of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, wants to merge the units under a Dutch holding company, called MediaforEurope (MFE), to pursue a European growth strategy.

But its major shareholder Vivendi, led by French billionaire Vincent Bollore, is fighting the project in courts across Europe, saying the governance structure of the new entity would strengthen the Berlusconis’ grip on the company.

In a bid to smooth the path of its plan through the courts, Mediaset and its Spanish units recently approved amendments to MFE’s bylaws.

Vivendi said the changes did not address its concerns and it is set take further legal action.

The Italian broadcaster faces a March deadline to see its Dutch holding company plan through, otherwise the decisions of a September shareholder meeting that approved the project will no longer be valid based on existing Dutch laws. The sources said that Mediaset will register the amended merger plan with the Dutch Chamber of Commerce, gaining a new six-month period to complete the merger.

One of the sources said that Mediaset was obligated to resubmit the plan after the bylaws changes but still aimed to complete the merger by the current March 19 deadline.

Earlier this week an Italian judge rejected Vivendi’s request to suspend the plan. Vivendi said it would appeal against the decision.

The reorganization remains however on hold because a Spanish judge last year ruled in favor of Vivendi’s request to halt the plan. A court in Spain on Thursday upheld the suspension and set a new hearing on Feb. 18.

A separate court hearing in the Netherlands on Vivendi’s request to block Mediaset’s overhaul is scheduled on Feb. 10.

(Reporting by Elvira Pollina; Editing by Susan Fenton)