Vivendi becomes top shareholder in Telecom Italia

Vivendi said on Wednesday it raised its stake in Telecom Italia to 14.9 percent, replacing Telefonica as its biggest shareholder and gaining a foothold in a country it said had significant growth prospects.

The move makes Vincent Bollore, Vivendi chairman and top shareholder, a major player in European telecoms again only months after the group finished selling nearly 36 billion euros of telecom and video game assets to focus exclusively on media.

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"This investment represents an opportunity for the group to be present and to expand in a market with significant growth prospects and a very strong appetite for quality content," Vivendi said. It also said it planned to support Telecom Italia over the long term.

With Telecom Italia seen by sector executives and bankers as a potential takeover target, billionaire Bollore could play king-maker in any coming consolidation. It will also make him more influential in Italy where his Bollore Group owns 7.46 percent of investment bank Mediobanca.

People familiar with the matter told Reuters last week that Vivendi planned to raise its stake to up to 15 percent, with a source saying on Sunday that it would reach 14.9 percent.

The French media group said on Wednesday it received 8.24 percent of Telecom Italia as part-payment for selling Brazilian broadband group GVT to Spanish carrier Telefonica.

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Vivendi also raised its ordinary shares in Telecom Italia from the 1.9 percent "recently purchased" to 6.66 percent on June 22, representing a global cash payment of about 1 billion euros ($1.12 billion), it said in a statement.

Telefonica said in a separate statement on Wednesday it would make a capital gain after the divestment of all of its shares in Telecom Italia of 380 million euros, which it would book in the first half.

Telefonica plans to fold GVT into its Vivo-branded Brazilian mobile phone business to create the country's biggest telecom group, Telefonica Brasil.

The stake transfer by Telefonica came after it, Italian insurer Generali, bank Intesa Sanpaolo and Mediobanca decided to break up a vehicle controlling 22.4 percent of Telecom Italia. They are exiting what has been a money-losing venture for them since they entered in 2007.

Mediobanca Chief Executive Alberto Nagel earlier on Wednesday ruled out selling the Italian investment bank's 1.6 percent stake in Telecom Italia to Bollore.