GUS continues pursuit of Argos heads

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The Independent Online
GREAT UNIVERSAL Stores's pursuit of the former Argos management continued yesterday when the mail order company said it was seeking another meeting with the Takeover Panel to express its concerns over statements made by Argos directors during GUS's pounds 1.9bn bid battle for the company.

GUS claims Argos directors broke Takeover Panel rules with statements made during the bid. It has already taken these claims to the Panel, which has said it is satisfied that its rules were not broken. GUS has also lost its right of appeal as more than one month has lapsed since its first meeting with panel officials.

However, GUS said yesterday that the lapsed right of appeal did not preclude it from requesting a further meeting with the full panel in which it will be able to present fresh evidence. The company is also not ruling out taking legal action against the Argos directors and its advisers.

At the centre of GUS's claims are statements made by Argos about trading at its operations in Holland, which have subsequently been closed. It points to a statement made by Argos on 25 March that the Dutch stores were trading "above expectations". GUS says that internal accounts show the operations in Holland were trading below expectations.

Argos would not comment on the Dutch statement. However, it said: "We stand by the statement made at the time of the bid. GUS has already been rebuffed by the panel. If the company chooses to pursue the matter through the courts we will defend our position vigorously."

GUS says the Easter trading statement made by Argos was not a factor in it raising its bid from pounds 1.6bn to pounds 1.9bn, because the trading update came after the offer had been raised.

It claims it is taking the action to encourage the panel to tighten up its rules.

Argos declined to become involved in a "public debate" about the issue. It also criticised the GUS team for "apparently leaking" details of letters sent by Lord Wolfson, GUS chairman, to the Argos directors when his claims had already been rejected by the Takeover Panel.

GUS shares yesterday closed 5p lower at 650p.

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