The media group Vivendi Universal last night upped the ante again in its battle with Vodafone for control of the French telecoms company Cegetel by rejecting the British-based mobile phone operator's €6.77bn (£4.27bn) cash bid for its 44 per cent stake.
"Following its examination, the board considers that the amount offered by Vodafone does not reflect the true value of Cegetel and has decided, on behalf of Vivendi Universal's shareholders, not to accept the offer as it stands," Vivendi said.
Vodafone's offer for Vivendi's stake in Cegetel was due to expire today and was part of the mobile phone operator's wider €13.07bn bid for Cegetel.
Vivendi's rejection of the offer is the latest twist in the battle with Vodafone for control of Cegetel and suggests the media group will, despite its €19bn debt pile, move to bid for the balance of the stock.
On Monday, a Paris court granted Vivendi an extra 30 days to bid for BT's 26 per cent stake in Cegetel and SBC Communications' 15 per cent share, extending a Vodafone-imposed deadline to 10 December.
Under the rules of a shareholder agreement, Vivendi has first refusal over the BT and/or SBC stakes although it must offer the latter a 13 per cent premium to the €2.3bn price that Vodafone has pledged to pay. Vodafone could not be reached for comment.
The rejection came as the Paris public prosecutor's office announced it would investigate Vivendi's financial accounts for 2000 and 2001 after shareholders filed a lawsuit claiming the company had misled them. Vivendi said it would co-operate fully with the inquiry.
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