Pinault to be given Suez bid deadline

January 4 2007 - Billionaire businessman François Pinault will next week be given a deadline by which he must either make a bid for French utility Suez or shelve his plans for at least six months.

The board of the French stock market watchdog, AMF, expressed on Wednesday that it considered a statement released this week by Mr Pinault's holding company, Artémis, had officially declared an interest in Suez. Insodoing, under new French regulations aimed at curbing the impact of bid rumours on share prices, Artémis must now either alone or in concert launch a public offer for Suez shares or publish a further statement setting out the characteristics of a public offer.

It was uncertain how long Mr Pinault would be given to make such a decision. This could be as much as a month.

Rumours abound that Mr Pinault proposes to bid up to €70bn ($92bn) for waste and water utility Suez and then sell it back to Gaz de France (GdF) for as much as €40 bn. The French government supports a full merger of GdF and Suez and on Wednesday dismissed speculation that president Jacques Chirac was prepared to consider a deal with Artémis.

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