DTI investigates Ojjeh share deals in Cordiant bid battle

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The Independent Online

The Syrian chess promoter Nahed Ojjeh is being investigated by the Department of Trade and Industry over the disclosure of her share dealings in Cordiant Communications.

The DTI confirmed yesterday that it is examining whether Mme Ojjeh breached the Companies Act by failing to disclose in a timely manner that she had built up a stake of 3 per cent in the stricken advertising group. "We are looking into the matter," a DTI spokeswoman said.

The maximum penalty is two years' imprisonment. Other options are a fine, censure, or both.

Mme Ojjeh has already been publicly censured by the Takeover Panel for failing to disclose some of her share purchases within 24 hours of the trades being struck. Mme Ojjeh built up a stake of 10.95 per cent in Cordiant, which last week agreed a £266m takeover by WPP.

Mme Ojjeh has lost about £400,000 during her foray into the UK takeover scene. She bought shares in Cordiant at prices significantly above the WPP offer price of 2.5p a share. The WPP offer was approved by Cordiant shareholders in a dramatic series of investors meetings last week. Mme Ojjeh sent a representative from a French law firm who tried to abstain from the WPP vote but failed to raise his proxy card in time.

Active Value, the fund management group that acquired a 29 per cent stake in Cordiant, admitted over the weekend that it had made a mistake in challenging the WPP deal as forcefully as it did. It is still considering whether or not to take legal action against the Cordiant directors and its advisers UBS.

Active Value successfully voted three of the directors off the board last week.