Lipton queries Ritblat purchase

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The Independent Online
STUART LIPTON, chairman of Stanhope Properties, may mount a legal challenge to the purchase last week of a 30 per cent stake in Stanhope by John Ritblat, head of British Land.

Mr Ritblat hopes to use the stake - bought in partnership with George Soros, the US- based currency and bond trader - as a platform for the eventual acquisition of the Broadgate complex in the City of London, half owned by Stanhope.

Mr Lipton claims that under a contract signed with Paul Reichmann, the original owner of the shareholding, he should have been given first right of refusal on the stake. The shareholding dates back to 1988, when it was acquired for pounds 130m by Olympia & York, the Canadian group controlled by the Reichmann brothers.

Since O&Y went into receivership the shares have been owned by the Toronto-based Bank of Nova Scotia, which sold the shares to Mr Ritblat for an initial pounds 5m and a possible further pounds 10m in the future.

Mr Lipton is urgently seeking clarification, claiming the transaction is out of order. He bases his claim on a clause in the agreement with O&Y which gives him and his family a pre- emptive right to purchase the shares. Only if he were to refuse the offer would they be saleable to a third party.

Mr Lipton has received no reply, and the bank refused to comment. But sources close to British Land dismissed the claim, saying that the bank's lawyers advised that the clause became inoperative when O&Y went into receivership.

Any attempt to buy control of Broadgate would come as a relief to bankers, who are still owed pounds 750m on the development.

However, it is also highly likely to run into opposition from receivers to Rosehaugh, the other 50 per cent shareholder in the complex. Rosehaugh's receiver, Roger Oldfield of KPMG-Peat Marwick, said 'it would not be appropriate to sell the half-share until such times as Ludgate is more fully let'.

Jeremy Warner, page 2

Inside story, page 9

(Photograph omitted)