Lotus sells stake to Malaysian millionaire

Lotus, the Norfolk-based sports car and engineering group, will today announce that it is selling a stake in the business to the Malaysian millionaire who controls the Proton car company.

Romano Artioli, the Italian entrepreneur who bought Lotus from General Motors in 1993, has convened a meeting close to Lotus's Hethel headquarters near Norwich to unveil details of the "new partnership" the company is about to enter.

Proton is controlled by Yahaya Ahmad, one of Malaysia's richest men and a friend of the Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed. Reports last week suggested that it could pay up to pounds 53m in exchange for an 80 per cent stake in Lotus. The Malaysian group would also inherit some of Lotus's debt.

The future of the sports car company has been in the melting pot virtually since Mr Artioli took control. His three years at the helm have been punctuated by a succession of management bust-ups and a constant stream of bid rumours.

Until a month ago it looked as though the South Korean conglomerate Daewoo would emerge as Lotus's partner but Mr Artioli and Daewoo are not thought to have been able to agree a price. A deal with Lotus would enable Proton to reduce its dependence on its Japanese partner Mitsubishi.

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