Vivendi-Lagardere deal faces full-scale EU antitrust probe

Media group Vivendi’s (VIV.PA) proposed acquisition of rival Lagardere is likely to face a full-scale EU antitrust investigation, people close to the matter said on Tuesday.

The proposed deal would combine France’s two biggest publishing groups, Lagardere’s Hachette and Vivendi’s Editis, and has come in for criticism from rivals including Gallimard.

To resolve European Union antitrust concerns, Vivendi’s top investor – billionaire Vincent Bollore – would sell all Editis shares he would receive after the transaction, which would consist of a simultaneous distribution of the publishing unit’s shares to Vivendi shareholders and its listing.

The move aims to remove the entire overlaps between Vivendi and Lagardere, one of the people said.

It was not impossible that Vivendi may formally offer remedies in a bid to secure approval during the EU preliminary review but the short period of time left for regulators to do their work during this phase was a constraint, the person said.

The European Commission is expected to launch an in-depth investigation after finishing its preliminary review of the deal on Nov. 30, the sources said.

The EU competition enforcer and Vivendi declined to comment.

Vivendi shares fell by as much as 2.5% after the Reuters story was published, but subsequently recovered.

Bollore is Vivendi’s controlling shareholder with a 29% stake. The mass media holding company already owns 57% of Lagardere after a bid for all of the group’s shares.

Lagardere’s assets include flagship magazine Paris Match, weekly newspaper Journal du Dimanche and radio station Europe 1.