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PARIS (AP) _ In a move to trim its debts, French media company Vivendi Universal said Monday it will sell a stake of up to 15.6 percent in utilities company Vivendi Environnement.

The sale will dilute Vivendi Universal's holding in Vivendi Environnement from 63 percent to 42 percent and should help Vivendi Universal shave 1.7 billion euros ($1.65 billion) off its debt of 33.4 billion euros ($32.4 billion).

The 53.8 million shares will be placed on the market by Deutsche Bank.

Institutional investors, including Caisse des Depots et Consignations, Groupama, BNP Paribas, Societe Generale and Credit Lyonnais, have committed themselves to exercising preferential subscription rights and to buying any shares not sold on the market.

This group of investors, some of which will constitute a new group of core shareholders for Vivendi Environnement, will hold a stake of between 6 percent and 13 percent in the utilities company.

The partial divestment comes after a series of comments by Vivendi Universal Chairman Jean-Marie Messier, who made contradicting statements this year regarding his intentions for the water company.

Vivendi Universal said Monday it would retain the curtailed 42 percent stake in Vivendi Environnement, which has a debt of 14.3 billion euros ($13.8 billion), for at least 18 months.

The price of Vivendi Environnement shares sold via Deutsche Bank was expected to be set Tuesday.