Allianz plots to thwart CGU on pan-Europe SocGen deal

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The Independent Online
ALLIANZ, the German insurance giant, is seeking to thwart plans by the British insurer CGU to forge an exclusive pan-European deal with Societe Generale, the French bank which narrowly escaped the clutches of its rival Banque Nationale de Paris last month.

The German giant, which bought the French group AGF last year, has a sizeable stake in SocGen and has plans of its own for developing its relationship with SocGen which precludes the kind of arrangement that CGU has in mind.

The British composite insurer caused a stir when it waded into the French banking bid battle at the 11th hour with a surprise purchase of SocGen shares which analysts say was instrumental in tipping the balance against BNP.

SocGen failed to get through its planned merger with Paribas which fell instead to BNP. But SocGen has succeeded in remaining independent and has been working on plans to develop the business internationally.

The French stock market regulator the COB ruled that the shares which CGU bought in SocGen, taking its stake in the French bank to 7 per cent, have to be held in an escrow account but can be sold to a third party as of the end of this month. CGU has made it clear that it wishes to use the stake to underpin a wider relationship with SocGen.

The chairman of the French bank, Daniel Bouton, last week announced plans for a 2bn euros share buy-back. He also said the bank planned to develop partnerships with other European financial institutions.

Bankers say SocGen is also in the sights of the Spanish banking giant BSCH which has been buying SocGen shares in the market over the past few days.

Insiders say BSCH as Banco Santander was close to agreeing a merger with the French bank before its merger with the rival BCH in January forced the French to call off talks.