Vivendi 'not a point of entry' for Orange into Telecom Italia

ROME (Reuters) - Vivendi’s investment in Telecom Italia is not a point of entry for French telecoms group Orange into the Italian group, the CEO of the media group said on Tuesday, shooting down talk that it could facilitate a tie-up between the two telecom companies.

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Speaking to the Italian Senate in Rome, Chief Executive Arnaud de Puyfontaine said Vivendi, Telecom Italia’s top shareholder with a 21.39 percent stake, was keen on helping the company develop long-term strategic projects.

His comments followed speculation that Vivendi could eventually sell its stake on to Orange or use it to facilitate a merger between Telecom Italia and its French rival.

“We are industrial and long term investors. We are in Italy to realize an ambitious project along with other shareholders, stakeholders and the government,” he said.

De Puyfontaine said Vivendi was not acting on behalf of others and was not working with French telecoms tycoon Xavier Niel.

Niel’s sudden investment in call options relating to 15.1 percent of Telecom Italia last year led to feverish speculation over his and Vivendi’s intentions for the heavily-indebted group, which has been struggling from a lack of clear strategy and which is seen as a potential takeover target.

De Puyfontaine did not say if Vivendi aimed to further increase its stake in Telecom Italia having raised it by 0.89 percentage points to 21.39 percent following a pivotal meeting of the Italian company’s shareholders in mid-December.

At that meeting the French group won a vote to appoint four representatives to Telecom Italia’s board while also blocking a share conversion plan that would have diluted its stake.

The French company has long said Telecom Italia has good prospects, especially in view of its plans to build an ultrafast nationwide fiber optic broadband network in Italy - a pet project of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

De Puyfontaine said on Tuesday he was open to collaborate with energy group Enel on broadband and explore options for an alliance with local Milan-based fiber network operator Metroweb.

“We are open to all options on Metroweb, we will be very pragmatic,” he said.

Metroweb, controlled by infrastructure fund F2i and state-lender CDP, is widely seen as the corporate vehicle for building the national fiber network.

Shares in Telecom Italia were up 3.8 percent by 1433 GMT, compared with a 1 percent gain in Milan’s blue-chip index.

Reporting by Giuseppe Fonte; Writing by Agnieszka Flak; Editing by Greg Mahlich