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GLOBAL MERGER JITTERS

The FBI Looks Into The Verio-NTT Deal While French Culture Minister Scrutinizes Canal Plus
Maybe mergers aren't such a great idea after all.

In the wake of the Department of Justice's challenge to the Sprint-WorldCom merger, two other impending mergers are getting a little extra scrutiny from government officials. And the hassles aren't just limited to our own hallowed soil, either.

Stateside, the Federal Bureau of Investigation raised some concerns about the proposed $5.5 billion takeover of Internet service provider (ISP) Verio Inc. by Japan's former state phone monopoly, NTT Communications. According to The Wall Street Journal, the FBI had expressed its concerns over the deal with the Treasury Department and that the Committee on Foreign Investment was extending its probe into the deal.

There was some speculation that the FBI's meddling was politically motivated, especially since Tokyo and Washington are currently in a dispute over the fees NTT is charging for allowing other carriers to connect to its nationwide local phone network.

One arbitrageur quoted in a Reuters story said, "A Web company does not present a national security threat; that's patently obvious. Therefore, it's a political lever the government is sort of groping at."

Well, at least they're not groping a White House intern.

In reaction to the news, Verio shares fell on Thursday to 54 15/16, considerably below NTT's $60 a share offer.

Meanwhile, in France, culture minister Catherine Tasca has expressed her desire that Canal Plus change the way its business will be carved up in the three-way merger between Vivendi, Seagram and Canal Plus. The way the deal is currently structured, the combined Vivendi Universal would own 49% of Canal's French channel, by law the maximum any single shareholder can own of a French TV station.

While VU would be at the maximum without exceeding it, Tasca was still leery and pushing for Canal Plus to be left roughly how it currently is.

Kind of makes one wonder just what the heck these governments think they're doing getting in the way of business, progress and all that.

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