Vivendi Universal has offloaded the 10% stake in US satellite operator EchoStar that it purchased under acquisition-hungry former ceo Jean-Marie Messier.

Ever since Messier was replaced by Jean-René Fourtou, the media mammoth has been selling instead of buying in a bid to erode its debt mountain and raise cash.

EchoStar is buying back the stake for $1.06 billion (€1.04bn; £0.66bn), a 15% discount on its current market value and substantially less than the $1.5bn Vivendi paid for it a year ago [WAMN: 17-Dec-01].

By selling now, Vivendi misses the chance to gain a potential $525 million payment from EchoStar in 2005, applicable if the satellite group’s shares lose value.

• Separately, the French probe into Vivendi’s Messier-era financial practices has been widened, with reports that police have raided the office and homes of former board member Marc Vienot.

The searches follow raids at Vivendi’s headquarters and Messier’s home last week [WAMN: 13-Dec-02], and are part of an inquiry launched after a complaint from shareholder group APPAC [WAMN: 30-Oct-02].

In response, Vivendi has now decided to sue APPAC, accusing it of conducting a “destabilizing campaign”. The shareholder body is alleged to have made a series of “false accusations”, such as declaring that Vivendi was about to go into receivership.

Data sourced from: multiple sources; additional content by WARC staff