Arnault plans new assault on drinks merger

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The Independent Online
Bernard Arnault is poised to renew his campaign against the pounds 23bn merger between Grand Metropolitan and Guinness in the next few weeks. Mr Arnault, the head of French luxury goods group LVMH, plans to meet more investors of the two UK drinks companies in an attempt to gain enough support to block the merger.

LVMH owns more than 11 per cent of both GrandMet and Guinness and is the biggest shareholder in both groups. It needs 25 per cent of the shareholder vote to block a deal.

A spokesman for LVMH said: "Mr Arnault is going to meet GrandMet and Guinness shareholders over the next few weeks and months."

LVMH also confirmed that Mr Arnault had travelled to the US recently to meet institutional shareholders.

Industry sources suggest Mr Arnault will resume his attack on the merger after LVMH's financial results tomorrow. Guinness also announces its half-year results the same day.

The new offensive is likely to lead to another meeting between Mr Arnault, Tony Greener, the chairman of Guinness and George Bull, his counterpart at GrandMet. Mr Arnault is also believed to be drawing up new strategies to block the deal in the event that any new talks break down. "There is a lot going on behind the scenes but nothing we want to make public at the moment," the LVMH spokesman said.

Mr Arnault wants to force through a three-way merger between Moet Hennessy, LVMH's spirits arm, and IDV and United Distillers, the spirits businesses of GrandMet and Guinness respectively. Guinness and GrandMet are also facing difficulties in getting the merger past competition authorities on both sides of the Atlantic. The merged company, which will be called GMG Brands, is believed to be hatching plans to hive off some of their leading spirits brands in order to clear the deal with the European Commission.