Icelanders rumoured to be behind bid for investment group chaired by Clarke

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The Independent Online

Savoy Asset Management, the investment group chaired by Ken Clarke MP that has just seen off a shareholder revolt, revealed yesterday that it had received a takeover approach.

The company did not name the potential suitor but speculation centred on the bid interest coming from an Icelandic financial group. Icelandic investors have aggressively bought up UK and Irish financial services companies, including Teather & Greenwood and Singer & Friedlander.

Paul Tarran, the finance director, would not comment on whether Savoy's potential suitor was Icelandic, but he said that the approach had not come from management or the rebel shareholder Global Investment House, a Kuwaiti group.

Global has a 26.8 per cent shareholding in Savoy, and in November it unsuccessfully sought to remove Mr Clarke, the former chancellor of the exchequer and regular Conservative Party leader contender, from Savoy board. At the extraordinary meeting requisitioned by Global, a resolution seeking to unseat Mr Clarke from the £50,000-a-year job was defeated by two-thirds of the votes cast.

Global is led by Dr Souad Al-Sabah, who is related to Kuwait's ruling family. The group, which has three representatives on the Savoy board, believes Savoy has underperformed. Global is understood to think Mr Clarke has been protected by the group's chief executive, Christopher Saunders, who is a friend. Mr Saunders has contributed financially to some of Mr Clarke's attempts to become the Tory leader. However, Savoy has stated that it wants Global to stop being a shareholder. Mr Tarran said selling the company to a third party would "resolve the Global situation".

Savoy said the approach was "at an indicative level not materially different" from the 177.5p share price at the close of business on Thursday. At 177.5p, an approach would be worth some £20m. Savoy shares ended at 190p last night.

Savoy has about £1.1bn assets under management, mainly catering for wealthy individuals. Last year, the wealth manager Rensburg bought Carr Sheppards Crosthwaite from the South African financial player Investec, a move was expected to be followed by more deals in the fragmented sector.

Mr Tarran said no decision had been made about whether to accept or reject the bid: "It's early days.... There are a lot of things to resolve before anything else can happen."

Global has previously taken complaints about Savoy to the Takeover Panel, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Financial Services Authority. Among their grievances is the allegation that Savoy placed shares behind the investor's back - a charge denied by the company, which has said the Kuwaitis were given the chance of taking part in the placing.

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