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Viv U pub pact punished

Commission halts review of merger due to lack of info

Vivendi Universal’s nearly yearlong quest to sell its European publishing operations to rival French media and industrial conglom Lagardere was dealt another setback Monday as the European Union stopped the clock on its review of the $1.44 billion deal.

The European Commission said it had halted its review of the merger, citing Lagardere’s failure to comply with requests for further information.

Last month the EC turned down a French government request to be the arbiter of the $1.44 billion takeover. The Euro trustbuster argued that the competitive implications of the deal extended beyond French borders, within which the merger would give Lagardere 65% of domestic publishing revenues.

The commission had tentatively indicated it would issue a ruling on the deal by Dec. 3, a date that now looks unlikely.

The EU says Lagardere has failed to comply with two deadlines for data that the regulator deems essential to its review.

The merger would create the largest French book publisher. Independents have asked the European cartel cops to force Lagardere to sell off some of the Viv U publishing affiliates to alleviate anticompetitive concerns.

Viv U’s Euro publishing biz is being held in trust by bank Natexis Banques Populaire until the commission approves or denies the deal.