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Carlyle 'in on bid for Vivendi'

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) -- The Carlyle Group, one of the world's top private equity firms, has joined billionaire oilman Marvin Davis's bid for the U.S. entertainment assets of French conglomerate Vivendi Universal, a source close to the discussions said on Monday.

The news that Carlyle has joined the $20 billion bid for Vivendi's movie, music, TV and theme park assets comes as sources close to Vivendi confirmed over the weekend that the company is still in talks with Davis, although the sides have not begun firm negotiations for the unit.

The Carlyle Group, which has $14 billion under management, counts among its past advisors former U.S. President George Bush and former British Prime Minister John Major. It joins buyout firms Texas Pacific Group and Bain Capital in the bid, as the source said they were both on board.

A spokesman for Davis declined comment on the report. A spokesman for Carlyle was not immediately available for comment.

The talks come as Vivendi faces a big week in its efforts to rebound from staggering debts left by former chairman Jean-Marie Messier, whose expansion into Hollywood with the purchase of Universal Studios nearly sent Vivendi under.

Vivendi is due to give its first annual results since Messier was sacked in July.

Meanwhile, Vivendi's new chief, Jean-Rene Fourtou, is talking to Davis as well as to U.S. media mogul Barry Diller about a legal tangle that might hinder any rapid efforts to sell the studios and erase debt.

Although he initially labeled Vivendi an entertainment company at heart, Fourtou has not ruled out any strategic option including selling the U.S. assets as it reduces debt.

But a deal struck by Messier to bring Diller in to run Vivendi's U.S. portfolio just over a year ago could make Vivendi liable for heavy tax obligations if it sells the same assets too soon. Vivendi and Diller are in talks over the structure of their partnership.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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