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Vik’s on a Viv U kick

Investor snaps up 2.5% of conglom

NEW YORK — Carl Icahn, move over.

A deep-pocketed European investor named Alexander Vik has apparently acquired 2.5% of Vivendi Universal — making him the French conglom’s largest individual shareholder — and plans to push the company to sell off assets.

Vik is a Norwegian citizen who lives in Monaco. His investment vehicle, Sebastian Holdings, is based in the British West Indies, with an office in Greenwich, Conn.

Vivendi spokesman Antoine Lefort declined to comment on the reports, which first surfaced in the French press Tuesday.

Viv U shares rose 2.28% in New York to close at $34.53.

Activist stockholders have become a fact of life for big companies across the globe. Icahn recently abandoned an effort to force change at giant Time Warner. He didn’t control enough stock and couldn’t get traction with other shareholders.

Vik may face a similar challenge. Given Viv U’s massive market capitalization of nearly $35 billion, he’d need to control a lot of stock to force change. Viv U also has a relatively strong track record of late.

The company has been proactive in selling off assets and nursing itself back to financial health. It was nearly bankrupt from an acquisition spree by former chairman Jean-Marie Messier that started with his purchase of former Universal parent Seagram.

Since then, the company’s shareholder base Stateside has shriveled. That’s one reason Viv U, which is traded in Paris, is in the process of delisting its shares from the New York Stock Exchange.

It also has proposed axing the “Universal” and changing its name back to Vivendi.

Shareholders will vote on the name change at the annual meeting next month.

French paper La Tribune said Vik is allied with Iranian businessman Amir Jahanchahi and the duo will press Viv U to choose between its showbiz and telecom assets.

Vivendi owns stakes in French phone company SFR Cegetel Group and Morocco’s Maroc Telecom.

Media and entertainment assets include a minority stake in GE’s NBC Universal and full ownership of Universal Music and of Canal Plus in France.

French business daily Les Echos said Sebastian Holdings purchased the Viv U stake at Jahanchahi’s initiative and that the move was not hostile.

Vik is no stranger to the French market. Sebastian Holdings was key in helping Gallic raider Vincent Bollore to secure a seat on the board of Havas and install new management at the advertising giant.