Vivendi, Lagardere Battle Heats Up on $2.2 Billion Claim

Lagardere SCA sued Vivendi SA in Paris, demanding restitution of 1.6 billion euros ($2.2 billion) to Canal+ France and intensifying the companies’ battle over their jointly owned pay-television unit.

Vivendi contests Lagardere’s claim, filed before the Paris commercial court, that a cash-management accord between Canal+ France and its parent Canal+ Group isn’t valid because it wasn’t approved by the supervisory board. Lagardere owns 20 percent of Canal+ France with Vivendi holding the rest. Vivendi owns 100 percent of Canal+ Group.

“This is an attempt by the Lagardere Group to destabilize Vivendi and force it buy back the former’s stake in Canal+ France,” Vivendi said in the statement, denying Lagardere’s claim and saying the cash accord didn’t need a nod from Canal+ France’s supervisory board.

The case may bring to a head years of disagreement between the two Paris-based companies over Lagardere’s holding in France’s biggest pay-TV company. Lagardere walked away from the negotiations with Vivendi in 2011, saying it may dispose of the stake through an initial public offering instead after failing to agree on its valuation.

Ramzi Khiroun, a Lagardere spokesman in Paris, didn’t return a call seeking comment. A Vivendi representative declined to comment beyond its press release.

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Vivendi was called to appear in front of the Paris court on March 21, Lagardere said.

Vivendi dropped 1.3 percent to close at 15.49 euros in Paris. Lagardere fell 0.4 percent to 26.11 euros.

As Chairman Jean-Rene Fourtou seeks to refocus Vivendi on media businesses, the company has put telecommunications assets including Moroccan phone company Maroc Telecom SA and Brazilian operator GVT on sale.

Broadcaster Canal+, alongside music business Universal Music Group Inc, is likely to be at the heart of a new media-focused strategy which Vivendi has said it could unveil by the next general meeting, people familiar with the matter have said.

Lagardere already wrote down the value of its Canal+ stake a year ago. Its 2011 annual report showed the stake had a value of 1.2 billion euros.

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