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Virgin To Sell Brit, Irish Cinemas

October 18, 1999

LONDON (AP) _ Richard Branson’s Virgin Entertainment Group plans to sell its cinema business in Britain and Ireland for $355 million.

Virgin disclosed Monday it will sell 35 cinemas to France’s UGC, which is expected to drop the Virgin name and rebrand them under its own mark.

UGC, formerly known as Pathe, is a film distribution company owned partly by French industrial conglomerate Vivendi. It operates 400 movie screens in France, Belgium and Spain.

Branson’s group paid $322 million when it bought the former MGM cinema chain four years ago.

The sale includes a long-term contract for the marketing of Virgin Cola within the British cinemas, the company said. Virgin will also negotiate to sell its cola through UGC’s cinemas in Europe _ a project that could be worth ``tens of millions″ of dollars for the Virgin group, the British company said.

The cinemas employ around 900 people in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Money from the sale will go toward Virgin’s other entertainment businesses, including Megastores, which sell music and videos, and its unit for retailing via the Internet.

Virgin Entertainment Group is owned by Virgin Group and a minority shareholder, U.S. venture capital firm Texas Pacific group.

British billionaire Branson is perhaps best known for his airline Virgin Atlantic and its rivalry with British Airways.

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