Takeover Panel raps Ojjeh over Cordiant stake

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The Independent Online

The Takeover Panel publicly reprimanded Nahed Ojjeh yesterday for breaching its rules in amassing a large stake in Cordiant Communications. The ruling that Mme Ojjeh was "hereby criticised" came as the Syrian chess enthusiast revealed that she had increased her holding in the crisis-hit advertising group to 10.85 per cent ahead of the delisting of the shares on Wednesday.

It is understood that the Panel has also completed its investigation into the possible existence of a concert party in relation to Cordiant and decided to take no action. Its investigations into the Cordiant situation are therefore closed.

The Panel admonished Madame Ojjeh for failing to disclose multiple share dealings in Cordiant, saying "none of these dealings had been disclosed ... as they should have been."

The Panel said Mme Ojjeh had co-operated fully with the investigation and "apologised unreservedly for the breaches of the (Takeover) Code."

It added: "Mme Ojjeh has explained that they arose through her lack of familiarity, as a foreign investor, with UK regulation. Mme Ojjeh has also explained that at the outset she did not have an adviser who was familiar with the code."

Even though the panel did not fine Mme Ojjeh, or recommend financial advisers not to deal with her - a practice known as cold-shouldering in financial circles - it is still rare for the regulators to issue formal criticisms of shareholders.

Mme Ojjeh, whose reason for buying the shares is still unclear, issued details of her share transactions yesterday showing that her total stake had risen to 10.95 per cent by the time they were delisted on Wednesday. The shares were acquired between 10 June and 15 July.

A 1.94 per cent stake in Cordiant is held directly by Mme Ojjeh herself with a further 6.3 per cent held by Dacor, a company wholly owned by her. A further 1.3 per cent is registered in the name of her son Akram Ojjeh and 1.41 per cent in the name of her daughter Lara Tlass.

The shares were acquired at a premium to the WPP offer price leading WPP's advisers, HSBC, to comment: "Cancelling the listing may well have saved her some money."

The developments came a day after Cordiant urged its shareholders to accept a £266m takeover offer from WPP and vote against any alternatives put forward at a crucial shareholder meeting by 29 per cent shareholder Active Value next week. Though Mme Ojjeh has not declared her intentions toward her share purchases they have led to speculation that she could support Active Value in trying to derail the WPP takeover. WPP has the upper hand, however, because it also owns Cordiant's £256m of debt.

Active Value claims it is still working on alternative proposals but is running out of time with Cordiant shareholders due to vote on the WPP deal next Wednesday.