AWG lambasts Saunders for £3m costs

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Robin Saunders, the head of WestLB's principal finance arm, came under attack from AWG yesterday after the owner of Anglian Water disclosed that it had been forced to put £3m aside to fight the "virtual" takeover bid from the German bank.

AWG's executive chairman Peter Hickson said that almost no progress had been made since the WestLB-backed bid vehicle Bream Investments made its initial approach in January. "The prolonged uncertainty has not been in the interests of our shareholders, our employees, our customers and our business partners."

Mr Hickson also said it was no clearer now than in January whether Ms Saunders had the finance in place to make an offer or whether it had sorted out what to do with its other water company, Mid Kent, which would have to be disposed of to avoid an automatic competition referral.

"WestLB assured me from the start that they had a complete solution to the Mid-Kent problem and invited our lawyers to consult with their lawyers and the OFT," he said. "This made limited progress and did not give us the assurance we sought."

Mr Hickson said that he had written to the chairman of WestLB, Jürgen Sengera, on Monday asking him to clarify whether the bank intended to make an offer. On Tuesday, following an approach by AWG's advisers, DKW and SSSB, the Takeover Panel ruled that WestLB had until 18 June to "put up or shut up".

Mr Hickson said: "If there are more virtual bids then I am sure at some stage that the City institutions will say there has to be a way of policing them." The bulk of the £3m set aside so far will be accounted for by AWG's two sets of investment bank advisers and Linklaters, which is acting as legal adviser on the WestLB approach.

Mr Hickson said that AWG had received no approaches, formal or informal, from any other potential bidder. The private equity group CVC Partners refused to comment yesterday on reports that it was preparing a £1bn bid for AWG.

As well as the £3m cost of the WestLB approach, AWG has also spent £1.5m on lawyers fees preparing its £130m compensation claim against Sir Fraser Morrison over the alleged fraudulent sale of his family construction company to AWG three years ago.

Total exceptional items of £135m, mainly related to its debt restructuring, pushed AWG into a £42m pre-tax loss last year. Excluding one-off items and goodwill, profits fell 23 per cent to £106m largely as a result of increased interest charges on its debts.