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By Leila Abboud
PARIS, April 24 French conglomerate Vivendi said it would pay out close to 5 billion euros in dividends and buy backs this year and next, rewarding shareholders after three major asset sales including that of its biggest unit, telecom operator SFR.
The plan, which will be put to a vote at a June 24 shareholder meeting, caps Vivendi's two year-old strategy overhaul to cut exposure to capital-intensive telecoms activities and focus on media. It has already sold video games maker Activision Blizzard and is soon to close a sale of Maroc Telecom to Gulf operator Etisalat.
The board proposed to spend 1.34 billion on dividends this year, offering 1 euro per share, with 0.50 euros attributed to the 2013 performance and 0.50 euros as extra payout. The payment would take place on June 30 and is stable from last year's dividend.
After the 17 billion euro sale of SFR to French cable operator Numericable closes, Vivendi pledged to return "a significant part of the available cash" or 3.5 billion euros in dividends or share buy backs. The deal must be reviewed by antitrust regulators in France and may close by year-end.
Vivendi also confirmed that tycoon Vincent Bollore, the second-largest shareholder with 5 percent, will take over as chairman once veteran Jean-Rene Fourtou steps aside.
The renewal of two board members and addition of two new members, Philippe Bénacin, CEO of Interparfums, and Virginie Morgon, deputy CEO of Eurazeo, will also be put up to shareholder vote on June 24.
Vivendi shares closed up 1 percent to 20.13 euros on Thursday. Vivendi stock price has risen more than 4 percent this year so far, versus a 3 percent decline in the European media index.
(Editing by Sophie Walker)