Viv U sez case is ‘nothing new’

French firm dismissive of Diller-USAI suit

NEW YORK — Vivendi Universal kept a stiff upper lip in the face of its second lawsuit in two weeks late last week, as it dismissed USA Interactive’s legal accusations as being “without merit.”

In a statement Thursday, Viv U insisted the suit “represents” nothing new” in its ongoing dispute with Barry Diller’s USAI.

Viv maintained the Diller suit — like the one filed by John Malone’s Liberty Media two weeks earlier — is nothing more than an attempt to “gain leverage in the negotiations regarding our asset-disposal program, which has generated significant interest.”

The legal jousting comes as Viv U is believed to be ready to open the financial books of Viv U Entertainment to would-be bidders in the next week or so. Preparations for due diligence could signal the beginning of a more formal auction process, and the long-awaited end to the protracted solicitation of bids and rabid rumor-mongering that has accompanied it.

USAI filed suit last week claiming Viv U had reneged on a portion of a $620 million tax payment on preferred shares that Diller’s company believes it is due under the terms of its sale of USA Networks to Vivendi Universal last year.

Liberty’s March 28 suit alleged Vivendi intentionally hid a financial crisis while negotiating to buy Liberty’s stake in USA Networks in 2001.

Viv U said the USAI lawsuit will in no way hinder its efforts to sell VUE assets as it works to reduce its debt load. While the company maintains its innocence in the increasingly antagonistic litigation, sources said it has agreed to indemnify any VUE buyers from financial liability.

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