Paris listing for Orange revives speculation over Snook

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The Independent Online

Orange, the mobile phone company now owned by France Telecom, will be floated on the Paris stock market rather than in London, for tax reasons.

Orange, the mobile phone company now owned by France Telecom, will be floated on the Paris stock market rather than in London, for tax reasons.

France Telecom has learnt that listing its mobile interests in London will crystallise huge French capital gains tax liabilities. It emerged at the weekend that it will probably avoid the tax bill by floating in Paris, although a secondary offering in London is still possible.

"It is not decided for sure yet, but, because of tax issues, it looks likely that it's going to be Paris," said one observer.

However, the group yesterday denied a report that Hans Snook, the colourful businessman who has led Orange since its inception in 1994, is about to resign.

Denise Lewis, a spokeswoman for Orange said: "Hans Snook has confirmed to me today that he has absolutely no intention of leaving the group."

An industry source added: "His role is, fundamentally a strategic one right now, and it will remain so." However, the source refused to comment on whether Mr Snook's future role will be full time.

Orange was bought from Vodafone by France Telecom for £31bn in May. France Telecom will inject its other mobile assets into it and plans a 100bn euro (£58bn) listing of "New Orange". The main listing was expected in London.

It was expected, at the time of the Orange acquisition, that Mr Snook would be chief executive, while France Telecom's chief executive, Michael Bon, would be chairman.

It emerged earlier this month that the float, scheduled for this year, had been postponed until 2001, due to volatile market conditions and the legal and administrative complexities of forming the new company.

It was also revealed that a Frenchman, Jean-Francois Pontal, will assume a senior role at New Orange, thought likely to be the chief executive position.

Mr Pontal, currently the executive vice-president of France Telecom, was put forward as it was felt that an executive familiar with France Telecom and its mobile assets was needed to smoothe the integration of the two companies.

News that Mr Pontal would take on this prominent role set off speculation, denied by the company, that Mr Snook was being marginalised. It indicated that Mr Snook would be chairman instead. However, the news that Orange will have its primary listing in Paris set off new speculation that Mr Snook would leave. Industry sources said yesterday that the revised management structure of Orange would be announced next month and it would include Mr Snook.

Marketing of the float is expected in January with the initial public offering planned for February. New Orange is one of the few mobile operators with pan-European coverage. Orange has 8.3 million subscribers and, combined with France Telecom, it will be Europe's number two operator, after Vodafone. About 15 per cent of Orange is expected to be floated. The money raised would be used by France Telecom to reduce debt.