Embattled Eurotunnel fights back with Miguet 'morons' recording

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The Independent Online

Eurotunnel yesterday launched a last-ditch effort to discredit the rebel shareholder seeking to oust its management at Wednesday's annual meeting.

In a telling sign of its frustration with the dissidents, Eurotunnel released details of a taped telephone conversation that Nicolas Miguet, the one-time politician leading the rebellion, made two weeks ago.

Speaking on 25 March, M. Miguet castigated those Eurotunnel shareholders planning to return blank proxies forms as "morons" because blank proxies count as a vote in favour for the Channel Tunnel's management.

But the mud-slinging is unlikely to do either side much good: the deadline for voters' proxies on both sides of the Channel expires today.

M. Miguet, a share tipster who claims to run France's "only 100 per cent independent financial magazine", said not voting made shareholders "intellectually deficient". His comments were made on his premium-rate telephone tip line.

"Blank share proxies... clearly demonstrate that it's the shareholders who allow themselves to be taken advantage of," he added, admitting that France also had its "fair share of intellectually deficient people".

It is unclear how M.Miguet would proceed in tackling Eurotunnel's £6bn debt mountain if he succeeds in ousting its chief executive, Richard Shirrefs, given that the French and British governments have already knocked back his appeals for state support. The elements of his rescue plan centre on persuading Eurotunnel's bankers to write off much of the outstanding debt and raising the charges for rail companies, including France's SNCF and Eurostar, to use the underwater route.

Conversely, Mr Shirrefs, who has dismissed M. Miguet's gameplan as "cloud cuckoo land", plans to cut rail operators' charges by up to 70 per cent to stimulate more traffic. In return, Mr Shirrefs hopes to persuade the train operators to help it reduce its debt pile.

Many of Eurotunnel's private French investors, who hold 60 per cent of the total equity, have shown sympathy towards M. Miguet because of Mr Shirref's failure to improve their lot during the two years he has run the troubled group.