Desperation to possess what Britons call a “nice little earner” has persuaded debt-strapped Vivendi Universal to bet €4 billion ($4bn;£2.55bn) of its dwindling credit to acquire a majority holding in French telecom giant Cegetel.

The purchase of British Telecom’s 14% investment in Cegetel will lift Vivendi’s 44% stake to an unchallengeable 68% - to all intents and purposes dashing any hope held by rival bidder, Britain’s Vodafone Group, to gain control of the sought after cash cow.

The euro-grail is Cegetel unit SFR, the second-largest mobile network in France. With 13.2 million customers, SFR has (uniquely) almost zero debt and a 35% share of the French wireless market – in a sector where there is still mouthwatering growth potential.

Vodafone boss Sir Christopher Gent’s sole surviving hope of laying hands on Cegetel is to increase the offer Vodafone made several weeks ago for Vivendi’s stake in the bisiness - something he has repeatedly said he will not do.

Vivendi ceo Jean-René Fourtou made no attempt to disguise his glee at thwarting Gent’s ambitions. “I rejoiced about the strategic mistake. Had they offered €9 billion or even €8.5 [for Vivendi’s stake] we would have accepted ... But they really took me for a choir boy.”

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff