Murder will not stop Earthlease negotiating with British Telecom

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The Independent Online

Earthlease, the private equity consortium, said yesterday it was ready to re-enter talks with British Telecommunications immediately over its £8bn offer for the local loop exchange network, despite the death on the weekend of the principal architect of the ambitious plan.

The consortium said that Theodore Ammon, 52, had played a pivotal role in constructing the detailed proposal for BT's lines and exchanges, which link homes to the wider telecoms network, but he was not contributing funding personally. Mr Ammon, one of the foremost financiers on Wall Street, was found dead in his Long Island, New York summer residence from a mysterious attack using a blunt object.

Chancery Lane Capital, a boutique investment bank and Mr Ammon's latest venture, and Babcock & Brown, another US finance house, continue to spearhead the deal, Earthlease said. They were seeking to renew negotiations with BT at the earliest opportunity.

"Ted was one of the representatives of Chancery Lane, but he was not the exclusive representative," a spokesman said. "The money is way oversubscribed and we are only too anxious to proceed. The big question is price and we can't settle that until we sit down with BT at the table and hear what the state of the assets is."

The investment banks Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan Chase and UBS Warburg have also committed funds to the plan, dubbed Project Alchemy.

BT rejected Earthlease's offer in July following a pitch made to its chairman, Sir Christopher Bland, by Mr Ammon and Nicolas Lethbridge, the head of Babcock's London office. BT yesterday expressed sadness at the death of Mr Ammon, but indicated it had not changed its position regarding the local loop.

Earthlease claims its offer would release BT from a political and regulatory quagmire, allowing the troubled telecoms giant to concentrate on extracting maximum value from a continuing relationship with its customer base.

The consortium faces competition from WestLB, the German investment bank, which is also interested in buying BT's local loop. It is leading a consortium that tabled an £18bn offer for BT's entire landline business in July.

If BT continues to snub Earthlease, the consortium may put its offer direct to shareholders, or threaten to complain to the Government, citing the slow pace at which BT has moved to provide broadband internet services.

Meanwhile, the mystery surrounding Mr Ammon's death continues. Police in East Hampton investigating his death were yesterday still trying to identify suspects and a motive for the attack, which some observers said might have been a contract killing.