Italian prosecutors examine Vivendis Bollore, De Puyfontaine

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Vincent Bollore, chairman of Vivendi media group, attends the company’s general meeting in Paris

By Emilio Parodi, Stephen Jewkes and Elvira Pollina

MILAN (Reuters) – Italian prosecutors have closed an investigation into Vincent Bollore and Arnaud De Puyfontaine from Vivendi (OTC 🙂 for alleged market manipulation and obstruction of regulators, the tax police said on Saturday.

The prosecution’s investigation revolves around allegations the two managers made for buying Italian broadcaster Mediaset (OTC 🙂 ‘s pay-TV unit in an attempt to lower the share price and raid the shares. This emerges from a document published by Reuters.

A lawyer representing the two men has not yet responded to an email request sent by Reuters for comment. Vivendi categorically denied any wrongdoing in the case in a statement on Saturday.

In the document published by Reuters to close the investigation, prosecutors claim that the ultimate goal of the pay-TV deal was “to have a relevant stake of at least 24.99% in Mediaset’s capital.”

They claim that three Vivendi statements from 2016 were written to convince the market that the deal failed due to the pay-TV unit’s “misrepresentation of the economic and financial situation by Mediaset”.

They also claim the two managers did not tell the market that they hired Italian bank Mediobanca (OTC 🙂 to investigate ways to build a stake in Mediaset.

The latest development in the longtime case is due to tension between the Paris-based company and Italy over a law that may restrict its interests in the country.

Fininvest, the holding company that controls Mediaset, originally filed a complaint about Vivendi’s stake-building in late 2016, accusing it of never intending to hit the pay-TV deal.

The prosecution later investigated the then Vivendi chairman Bollore and the CEO De Puyfontaine for alleged market manipulation because of the French group’s stake in Mediaset.

According to Italian legal proceedings, prosecutors are now supposed to ask a judge to bring Bollore and De Puyfontaine to justice.

Vivendi, who questioned the pay-TV unit’s earnings forecasts when it abandoned the deal, previously said her goal was to forge an alliance to create a European media company.

The U-turn in the pay-TV purchase by Vivendi, whose main investor is Bollore, prompted Mediaset and Fininvest to claim damages amounting to several billion euros.

A legal battle has been ongoing since then, while attempts to reach a broader settlement and break the stalemate have so far been unsuccessful.

In Italy, an investigation does not imply guilt and does not necessarily mean that a charge will be brought.

Mediaset and Fininvest declined to comment, while Mediobanca was not immediately available for comment.

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