Vincent Bolloré’s French media giant Vivendi has confirmed that some of its top executives are being probed by Milan prosecutors for alleged market manipulation over the company’s takeover attempt of Italian broadcaster Mediaset.
The company, which began building its stake in Mediaset in December after announcing plans to become the second biggest shareholder of the group (behind Silvio Berlusconi’s Finevest, which owns about a third of the group), said that “this does not in any way signify any accusation against any person.”
A Vivendi statement released on Friday said: “The registration of Vivendi executives by the Milan public prosecutor is the result of an unfounded and abusive lawsuit filed by the Berlusconis against Vivendi after the increase of its stake in Mediaset.”
In December, prosecutors in Milan opened a preliminary investigation into Vivendi’s stake building in Mediaset after former Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi’s Fininvest issued a complaint against what it deemed a hostile takeover attempt.
At the time, Vivendi had just a 3% stake in Mediaset before Vivendi chairman Bolloré announced that it planned to buy up to 20% of shares in the Italian broadcaster. Since then, it’s passed that mark and now owns 30% of the company.
The investigation marks the latest chapter in a long-running public battle between the two broadcasters, which has seen them at locked horns since July 2016 when Vivendi backed out of an agreement that would have given Vivendi control of Mediaset’s pay-TV unit, Premium, and given the two companies 3.5% equity stakes in each other.
Bullish Bolloré has made no secret of his ongoing strategy to expand into southern Europe to create a non-U.S.-based global media giant. Vivendi, which owns Canal Plus, Studiocanal and Universal Music Group, is already the majority shareholder in Italian phone company Telecom Italia and a key shareholder of Italian investment bank Mediobanca. Last year, the company took over French video game publisher Gameloft, founded by France’s Guillemot brothers, who also own Assassin’s Creed maker Ubisoft.