Lagardère told investors on Tuesday that it had the capacity to spend as much as €4bn ($5bn) on acquisitions to continue its transformation into a company overwhelmingly focused on the media.

It also emerged on Tuesday that Philippe Camus, the head of the French company’s US media arm, received two special payments totalling €5.1m after being ousted from his former job as co-chief executive of EADS, the aerospace group partly owned by Lagardère, and taking up his current role last year.

Lagardère – built up by the late Jean-Luc Lagardère – has its roots in the aerospace industry. However, under his son, Arnaud Lagardère, its press, publishing, television and radio assets are increasingly taking centre stage.

The group is already the world’s leading publisher of magazines, owning titles such as Paris Match, Elle and Psychologies. In January, it agreed to take over Time Warner Books to become the world’s third-largest book publisher.

On Tuesday, at Lagardère’s annual shareholder meeting in Paris, investors were told that the group had a war chest of €4bn after taking into account the effect of last month’s deal to halve its stake in EADS, the parent company of Airbus.

However, the group remained relatively tight-lipped about possible deal targets in the media sector, although it did confirm that it was not one of the bidders for Emap’s French magazine arm, which is in the process of being auctioned.

Arnaud Lagardère, chief executive, struck a note of caution regarding the growing willingness of the traditional media industry to make large investments in internet businesses, stressing that it was necessary to be “realistic” about the sector’s resurgence.

Lagardère’s ambivalence about the return of merger and acquisition activity in the dotcom sector was underlined by a presentation made to investors by Mr Camus entitled “Web 2.0 or Bubble 2.0?”.

Mr Camus returned to a full-time post at Lagardère last July after his successful tenure at EADS was brought to an end by a behind-the-scenes power struggle. He was given a €2.55m pay-off by EADS as compensation for his departure.

He then received a further €2.55m in a related payment from Lagardère when he took up his current post. The sums were detailed in Lagardère’s annual report for 2005.

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