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Guinness and GrandMet talk `behind the scenes' with Arnault

Guinness and GrandMet have launched a "behind the scenes" approach to Bernard Arnault in an attempt to placate the LVMH boss's opposition to their proposed pounds 23bn merger.

Bizarrely, both Guinness and GrandMet insisted yesterday they had held informal talks with the Arnault camp with a view to resolving their differences, while a spokesman for LVMH said: "There have been no discussions. There have been no meetings between principals or advisers."

The LVMH spokesman admitted, however, that "if there are rumblings of an approach [by Guinness and GrandMet] then that's all good news to us".

Meanwhile a spokesman for GrandMet said: "Discussions are quietly going on behind the scenes. They're not in the public domain but they're not secret either."

Mr Arnault voted against the merger in his capacity as a Guinness board member and 14.2 per cent shareholder when the deal was unveiled. Since then he has spent pounds 810m buying 6.3 per cent of GrandMet to "get a seat at the table," according to his spokesman. The Frenchman wants his own drinks business to be included in the merger, and observers expect Moet Hennessy to be involved. Guinness already owns 34 per cent of Moet Hennessy.

The Frenchman's aggressive and unexpected share buying has annoyed the Guinness/ GrandMet camp, but the latter now realises that the Frenchman's agreement to the deal would be helpful. The deal will go before the American and European competition authorities in three months.