PARIS (Reuters) – French waste and water management firm Suez <SEVI.PA>, target of a hostile takeover bid from rival Veolia <VIE.PA>, said on Wednesday it needed some time to prepare alternatives.
Suez Chairman Philippe Varin also told a hearing at the National Assembly that Suez was talking with European Union anti-trust services and had asked French stock market watchdog AMF to look into Veolia’s move.
The head of Veolia however told legislators during the same hearing that time was pressing as he wanted to make his deal before Suez, as part of an existing plan to revamp its business, divests more of its units.
“It is urgent to stop these scorched earth tactics,” he said, ruling out extending the Sept.30 deadline for his bid.
Veolia last month offered to pay 2.9 billion euros for a 29.9% stake in Suez owned by French conglomerate Engie <ENGIE.PA>, with a view to subsequently taking full control by buying up more shares.
Suez sees Veolia’s bid plan as hostile and is working on finding a consortium of investors to make a rival bid for the stake French energy group Engie wishes to sell.
“I do not see why Engie…would accept a four week ultimatum”, Varin said.
“We simply need some more time to prepare alternative offers…We need to find investors who will be prepared to buy that (Engie’s) stake but we cannot act in a hurry in two weeks, this is not possible,”
Engie rejected Veolia’s initial advance but has said it will consider a higher offer.
Speaking in an interview on Tuesday, Veolia Chief Operating Officer Estelle Brachlianoff, who is also deputy CEO, said: “There is a legitimate debate on the price, clearly, and there will be a discussion to be had.”
Varin also said that the structure of Veolia’s offer raised legal issues as it was addressed to Engie <ENGIE.PA> as a prelude to a full takeover bid.
“This proposal does not comply with the principle of equal treatment for all shareholders as Engie will be treated a certain way and other (Suez) shareholders will one day find out how they will be treated,” he said, adding that he believed a AMF meeting on the matter would take place “very soon”.
Separately, representatives of employees who are also shareholders of Suez and of Engie on Wednesday asked Engie’s board to freeze decisions regarding Veolia’s offer and start consultations with all parties involved.
(Reporting by Bertrand Boucey, writing by Dominique Vidalon; editing by Jason Neely and Louise Heavens and Kirsten Donovan)