On Thursday the board of Air France, which has a controlling 57 per cent stake in Meridien, meets to decide whether to accept bids from Accor, Forte or the German- owned Kempinski group. The airline invited bids for all or part of its stake, decreeing that offers had to be lodged by 11 April.
Bidders were given detailed information about Meridien in return for signing a confidentiality agreement, as part of which they were supposed to refrain from making any public statements.
Accor flouted that undertaking in style at a recent high- level presentation in the City, according to one stockbroking analyst present. He reported that Accor 'flew the tricolour, pushing the French theme and warning that if Forte won Meridien it would make many people redundant'.
Accor's propaganda tactics may be influenced by the belief that its bid is lower than Forte's. In a joint bid with Prince Al Waleed, a nephew of King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, it is offering FFr560m ( pounds 65m) for only 40 per cent of Meridien, valuing the hotel company at FFr1.4bn ( pounds 163m). Forte's offer is understood to value Meridien at pounds 210m.
In Paris, an Accor spokeswoman explained: 'We have to try to be different from our competitors in the bid. Through our network of travel agencies, we are the biggest distributor of Air France tickets, so the quality of the relationship cannot be the same as it is with Forte. It is not uniquely about the amount of money to be put on the table right now.'
Accor argues that it can benefit Meridien's other shareholders by putting more business through the company from Accor's travel agencies. It owns Wagons-Lits and the US-based Carson, which have a combined turnover of pounds 7.5bn a year in 125 countries.
Accor has said that it would like to merge Meridien with its own upmarket Sofitel chain. It also owns the Novotel and Formula One chains.
A Forte spokesman said: 'We have had discussions with Air France, but Accor has had a rap over the knuckles for making public statements. We refuse to comment on what Accor has said.'