Power takeover tactics face ban

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The Independent Online
Controversial dealings of the type used by Swiss Bank Corporation and Trafalgar House ahead of the £1.2bn hostile takeover bid for Northern Electric may be banned as a result of an investigation by the Stock Exchange.

Although the exchange has not yet made up its mind whether Trafalgar and SBC broke any rules, it made clear that one option was to stop anybody else using the same tactics in future bids.

Confirming that its investigation into all options dealings and other transactions between Trafalgar House and its adviser, Swiss Bank Corporation, was continuing, the exchange said: "When we have completed our investigation of the facts we will decide whether there has been any breach of our rules and/or whether any of our rules need to be revised."

SBC sought Queen's Counsel's opinion on its transactions with Trafalgar House, but the Stock Exchange statement makes clear there is still a possibility of regulatory action.

It has also emerged that Northern Electric has enrolled the support of Sir Tim Bell, the public relations man, in its battle to have the bid referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. Sir Tim's Lowe Bell organisation will spearhead Northern's fight for government support, underlining the increasingly political nature of the debate.

Northern Electric has argued that the bid should be referred on public interest grounds and because it is the first proposed takeover of a regional elecricity company, all of which are protected by a government golden share that expires on 31 March.

There is a widespread view that the bid will not be referred on competition grounds but that political pressure will persuade Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, to send the matter to the MMC.

Lowe Bell numbers amongst its consultants Peter Luff, parliamentary private secretary to Tim Eggar, minister for energy and industry.One of the consultants of S.G. Warburg, advisers to Northern Electric, is Peter Ainsworth, personal private secretary to Jonathan Aitkin, financial secretary to the Treasury.

It is thought that Trafalgar House has so far avoided any political lobbying. Nor has it has been in contact with Jack Cunningham, shadow secretary of state for trade and industry, who has called repeatedly for the bid to be referred.

Northern Electric's defence document is unlikely to be published until the end of next week, which would be well before the deadline of 23 January.