Former bosses 'tapped up' by BAA's predators

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The Independent Online

Corporate predators circling Britain's biggest airports have approached former executives at BAA, the operator that faces a break-up later this year, to join their bid teams.

Senior employees who have left the operator over the past 18 months have confirmed that they have been asked to advise on potential bids for Gatwick, Stansted and BAA's Scottish airports.

Pressure is growing on Ferrovial, the Spanish conglomerate that bought BAA for £10.6bn in 2006, to sell off some of its leading airports following the publication of an "emerging thinking" report by the Competition Commission on Tuesday. The commission indicated that it was unhappy with BAA's monopoly positions in the South-east and Scotland.

A corporate adviser monitoring the situation for a client said that interested parties were establishing "holding patterns" ahead of the commission's preliminary findings in August. The commission seems certain to recommend the sale of one or more airports in both the South-east and Scotland to crack the monopolies.

Many of the executives now being approached were cleared out by Ferrovial after it took over. One former BAA executive said: "Anybody who used to work at BAA is obviously going to interest those parties looking to go in there and buy the airports."

A second source added: "I'm aware of the activity. A lot of the time these are plotting sessions with so-and-so guy talking to the [ex-BAA] guy."

However, he added that there are "some obvious choices who have been tapped up", particularly those with knowledge of the Scottish airports.

Speculation is now growing that Ferrovial is keen to sell and that Rafael del Pino, the company's billionaire chairman, has actually been planning this break-up for a long time. The sale of Gatwick and Stansted, along with parts of BAA's property portfolio, could fetch £6bn, leaving Ferrovial's net spend on the overall business below £5bn.

Given that Heathrow would remain with Ferrovial and its fixed assets are worth about £8bn, this would represent "one of the greatest steals in corporate raiding history", said a former BAA executive.

It is also believed that Macquarie, the Australian bank brought in to advise on refinancing BAA's bank loans, is valuing the airports in anticipation of future sales. However, Macquarie, with its well-established interest in infrastructure investments, is itself a probable bidder, and there is speculation that its relationship with BAA could compromise any bids. Macquarie declined to comment.

A spokesman for BAA said: "Anything on airport sales is based on speculation. It would be unusual if some infrastructure companies didn't talk their way around people who know the infrastructure they're interested in."