Mittal Steel has raised the prospect that it might settle for a minority stake in its bitter takeover battle for its rival Arcelor.
The development raises the possibility that Arcelor will end up with two large minority shareholders - which could be at odds with each other.
Arcelor, which is based in Luxembourg, shocked the market last week by agreeing to a deal to acquire the Russian steel group Severstal from the tycoon Alexey Mordashov, who will get a 32.8 per cent stake in Arcelor.
Roeland Baan, the chief executive for Europe at Mittal Steel, said in a German newspaper interview that his company might end up with a minority stake in Arcelor that could still be very influential.
"It could well be that we in the end perhaps have 40 per cent of the shares in a combined Arcelor and Severstal group. Then Mittal and Mordashov would be the two biggest shareholders."
Mr Baan added: "With more than 20 per cent we would be able to call an Arcelor shareholders' meeting at anytime. We would that way have a lot of power. And we would rather have this influence than no influence."
Mr Baan appeared to have gone beyond the official Mittal position. A spokeswoman for the company said its takeover offer for Arcelor was conditional on getting majority support. But analysts pointed out that Mittal was free to waive this condition if it received less than 50 per cent of the shares.
The spokeswoman said: "We remain focused on gaining 51 per cent of Arcelor and are confident of doing so given the substantial 70 per cent premium we are offering to Arcelor shareholders. Should we gain less than 50 per cent, we would evaluate our options at that time."
An Arcelor shareholders' meeting scheduled for late June can block the Severstal deal but only if more than half of the company's entire issued share capital votes against it.
One of Mittal's banks, Goldman Sachs, is actively supporting Arcelor shareholders that oppose the deal and helping to get together at least 20 per cent of the shares to call an extraordinary meeting to change the voting rules.
Separately, at least two groups of Arcelor shareholders are looking for other ways to scupper the Severstal transaction. Mischael Modrikamen, a Brussels-based lawyer who represents some international institutional shareholders of Arcelor, said yesterday he may take legal action to force Mr Mordashov to launch a full takeover bid for the Luxembourg-based steel group.
The French shareholders lobby group ADAM sent a letter on Monday to Arcelor chairman Joseph Kinsch and regulators in Luxembourg to demand a standard merger procedure between Arcelor and Severstal or a straight public offer from the latter.Reuse content