A French chief or Eurotunnel

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The Independent Online
THE GALLIC grip on the Channel tunnel is set to be tightened with the appointment of a leading French businessman as group chief executive of the operator, Eurotunnel, in place of Sir Alastair Morton.

An announcement is likely to be made this month and possibly as early as this week. Eurotunnel has identified its preferred candidate, but negotiations are not yet thought to have been completed.

When the new man arrives, Sir Alastair, 56 on Tuesday, will revert to being one of two co- chairmen of Eurotunnel along with Andre Benard.

Although the new recruit will be based at Eurotunnel's corporate headquarters in London, he is likely to spend much of his time at its operating centre in Calais. The appointment will tilt the balance of the Eurotunnel board in France's favour. It is made up presently of seven Britons, seven Frenchmen, a Belgian and an American. France already owns close to 60 per cent of the shares in Eurotunnel, and there are 500,000 small French shareholders compared with 125,000 in Britain.

Senior Eurotunnel sources stressed last night that the headhunters appointed to find the new chief executive had been instructed to conduct an open search, including interviewing potential British candidates.

Sir Alastair had always intended to give up the chief executive's role by this July, but it is hoped his replacement will be in place before the tunnel opens officially in May.

This week, Eurotunnel will announce the fares on its Le Shuttle car passenger service.

A return journey for a car with up to five passengers is expected to cost between pounds 160 and pounds 260, depending on the season.

(Photograph omitted)