Dutch directors call for break-up of Corus

A break-up of the ailing Anglo-Dutch steelmaker Corus loomed closer yesterday after its Dutch independent directors said they would rather reverse the company's 1999 merger than allow the sale to go-ahead of its aluminium business in the Netherlands.

The worsening feud between the two partners in Corus, formed from the merger four years ago of British Steel and Hoogovens, is due to be decided in Amsterdam today when a Dutch commercial court rules on whether the £543m sale of the aluminium division to Pechiney of France should proceed.

The sale was blocked on Monday night by the three Dutch members of Corus' supervisory board, precipitating a crisis at the company which warned of further heavy job losses and plant closures in the UK, sending its shares down by more than a half.

In court yesterday, the lawyer acting for the Dutch members of the four-member board said it was not necessary to weaken the Dutch part of Corus by selling its profitable businesses, adding that it might be possible instead to "reverse" the merger.

Separately, one of the three Dutch board members, Leo Berndsen, said: "As long as money is seeping out in Britain, we want a water-tight bulwark between the Dutch and British activities."

Lawyers for Corus's management urged the Amsterdam court to suspend the Dutch members of the supervisory board for a day so that its one UK member, the Corus chief executive Tony Pedder, could vote the aluminium sale through.

A demerger of the group would be complex and fought vigorously by its British directors on the grounds that it would almost certainly lead to the complete collapse of the company's loss-making UK steel division. For this reason, industry observers said the Dutch calls for a demerger might be a negotiating ploy.

Unions fear the fresh UK cutbacks could involve 3,000 job losses and the closure of one of Corus's three remaining integrated plants.

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