Vivendi Universal chief Jean Fortou confirmed yesterday that it was selling its European and Latin American publishing assets for Euros 1.25bn ($1.2bn) to a consortium led by French publishers Lagardere that includes US investment house Ripplewood Holdings and publisher John Wiley & Sons.

Vivendi's US publishing arm Houghton Mifflin is to be sold separately following disappointing bids. The Boston-based academic publisher has an estimated value of around $1.5bn, nearly 40% less than Vivendi paid for it last summer. The French-American group had been looking for offers of between $3.5bn-$4bn for the whole of Vivendi Universal Publishing.

Lagardere however is likely to face competition issues over the deal especially in France where rival French publishers have opposed the bid arguing that it would allow Lagardere to dominate France's book publishing industry.

In order to overcome such objections and to enable Vivendi chief Jean Rene Foutou to buy BT's 26% stake in French telecommunications company Cegetel, Vivendi is first selling its non-US publishing assets to French bank Natexis-Banque Populaire. The bank will then sell them on to Lagardere.