Italian judge to take until Jan. 21 to rule on Mediaset overhaul

MILAN (Reuters) - An Italian judge will wait until Jan. 21 at the earliest before ruling on a request by France’s Vivendi to suspend a planned reorganization at Italian broadcaster Mediaset, leaving the overhaul on hold until then, the companies said on Monday.

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Mediaset, controlled by the family of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, is aiming to create a European TV champion by merging its Italian and Spanish TL5.MC businesses under a Dutch holding company called MediaforEurope (MFE).

The Milan-based company wants to use the new entity to pursue pan-European tie-ups to take on increasing competition in the industry and stalling growth in its domestic market.

But Vivendi, Mediaset’s second-largest investor, is challenging the corporate overhaul in court, saying it harms minority shareholders.

Mediaset requested the court in Milan to put off a decision on Vivendi’s challenge until after a shareholders’ meeting scheduled for Jan. 10 to approve amendments recommended by the court to address Vivendi’s concerns.

A spokesman for Vivendi said it welcomed the judge’s decision to leave the merger process on hold.

Vivendi and Mediaset have been embroiled in a legal battle since the tycoons who control the two companies, Vincent Bollore and Berlusconi, fell out in 2016 over an aborted pay-TV deal. Vivendi has built a 29% stake in the Italian broadcaster, a holding which Mediaset considers hostile.

In Italy, Mediaset’s merger plan was approved at a shareholder meeting in September where Vivendi was only allowed to vote with the 9.6% Mediaset stake it owns directly.

The French company, which is also Telecom Italia's TLIT.MI top investor, was forced by the Italian communication watchdog to transfer two-thirds of its stake in Mediaset to an arms-length trust which Mediaset has prevented from participating in the meetings.

Vivendi’s spokesman said that as the Milan court considers the shareholder meeting’s outcome as “important”, Mediaset should evaluate “very carefully” any decision to bar the trust from voting at the Jan. 10 meeting.

Reporting by Elvira Pollina; Editing by Pravin Char