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Battle to control Lonrho Africa heats up

THE BATTLE for control of Lonrho Africa broke into open warfare last night after theconglomerate's board rejected the demands of a group of investors linked to George Soros.

The rebuff prompted Blakeney Management and African Lakes, two African investment funds, to write a letter to the company's shareholders accusing the board of destroying value and of running Lonrho Africa as "an old- fashioned conglomerate". After a two-day meeting, the company, recently spun off from the late Tiny Rowland's mining group, refused to appoint two directors backed by the two funds.

The Lonrho Africa chairman, Bernard Asher, said that the investors' request was an attempt "to gain control of the company without paying for it", even though they had scaled down their demands from three to two directors. Under thefunds' proposals, the company's strategy would have been set by a committee composed of two current board directors and two Blakeney- backed executives. Mr Asher said this was an attempt to bypass the board that no "company in its right mind would accept".

The funds, which own a 10.1 per cent holding in Lonrho Africa, last month requisitioned an extraordinary general meeting, due for early December, to replace some of the current directors with their appointees.

In the letter, Blakeney and African Lakes said: "Mr Asher's board is managing your company as an old-fashioned conglomerate."

They claimed that the company "lumps together" very different businesses such as "a cotton processor in Zambia with a pork processor in Kenya, a timber grower in Zimbabwe and a traditional beer company in Zambia."