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Phone boss hits the jackpot

VODAFONE AirTouch has given one of its directors an ex gratia award of shares worth pounds 9.26m. The hand-out, which goes to Arun Sarin, the head of the US and Asia operations, is detailed in the offer document for the mobile phone group's pounds 84bn hostile bid for German rival Mannesmann.

Mr Sarin, who joined the group when Vodafone bought AirTouch earlier this year, will receive 3.04 million shares in the group, currently worth pounds 9.26m, as part of a restricted share scheme granted to him alone last July.

There are no conditions on the award, a matter which will raise the hackles of Vodafone investors. It is the policy of leading fund managers, such as Standard Life and Legal & General, to oppose bonus packages that do not have performance criteria attached.

Mr Sarin has received 1.04 million of the shares. He will pick up another 666,000 next July and 1.33 million in July 2001. He already owns options over 5 million shares in the company, awarded to him by AirTouch before it was taken over by Vodafone. These are currently worth pounds 10m. Sam Ginn, the chairman of Vodafone AirTouch, also has share options from his time at AirTouch and they are currently worth around pounds 52m. Mr Ginn also has phantom share options, the value of which has not been disclosed.

Vodafone defended Mr Sarin's award, saying it paid the going rate for each market and that the US market for mobile phone executives was particularly competitive.

The group finally launched its hostile bid for Mannesmann on Thursday, so ending a phoney war that has been going on for nearly two months since Vodafone said it would launch an offer.

The all-share bid would give Mannesmann investors 47.2 per cent of the combined group and is not conditional on European Commission approval.

Mannesmann seized on this issue, saying Vodafone could end up in a situation where it controls Mannesmann but cannot secure the 75 per cent majority needed to force through the sale of Orange, the UK mobile phone firm recently bought by the German group. Without the sale of Orange, Vodafone/Mannesmann would have an overwhelming monopoly in the UK.

Vodafone has also received another setback to its international expansion plans with news that BT is planning a pounds 4.5bn bid for Airtel, the Spanish mobile phone group. Vodafone has secured a deal to buy a 30.5 per cent stake in Airtel, but has now been outbid by BT which already owns 17.8 per cent of Airtel's shares.