Business & Finance

As expected, Vivendi Universal narrowed the field of bidders for its US entertainment properties to two: General Electric's NBC-TV division and a consortium of investors led by Edgar Bronfman Jr., former chairman of the Seagram beverage empire. The French conglomerate said it would continue to discuss a sale with both, indicating in the process that bids by CBS and Viacom no longer will be considered. But against that backdrop, Vivendi's board said it also would explore an initial public offering for its theme parks; Universal movie and TV studios; and the cable-TV channels USA, Sci-Fi, and Trio. Meanwhile, the Financial Times, citing an "insider," reported that the Bronfman group might quit the bidding on grounds that it was being used merely to give Vivendi greater leverage in negotiations with NBC.

A news conference was scheduled in Oklahoma City Wednesday to announce that state law-enforcement officials are filing new criminal charges against the former WorldCom Inc.; its chief executive, Bernie Ebbers; and five other senior administrators for "willfully" misrepresenting information about the company to investors. The company, now operating as MCI, filed the largest bankruptcy case in US history last summer, but is attempting to emerge from Chapter 11 protection later this year. It already is confronting a federal criminal investigation as well as probes by several other states.

In an all-cash deal valued at $1.2 billion, Lone Star Funds agreed to buy majority control of troubled Korea Exchange Bank, the fifth-largest lender in South Korea. Lone Star, based in Dallas, specializes in acquiring distressed companies. It failed in an attempt to buy government-run Seoul Bank last year. Korea Exchange Bank needs an infusion of new capital because of a portfolio burdened by nonperforming loans, reports said.

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