Rumours persist of hostile Suez bid

15 January 2007 - The management of French utility Suez faces a tough board meeting this week as Albert Frère, the French utility's largest shareholder, reinforces his position amid constant bid rumours.

Mr Frère, the Belgian billionaire who also sits on the Suez board, is thought to have bought more shares late on Friday even as he disclosed earlier purchases that took his GBL investment vehicle's stake from 9.1 to 9.5 per cent.

The latest purchases, which will have to be disclosed this week, will take him to about 10 per cent, with 15 per cent of the voting rights, according to people close to the company.

Mr Frère has reassured Gérard Mestrallet, the Suez chairman, that his stake- building is not hostile and that he supports the plan to merge with state- controlled Gaz de France (GdF). However, the fact he has acquired shares at a price significantly higher than the value being attributed to Suez under the difficult GdF merger deal has raised suspicions about his ultimate intentions.

"Suez is on bid alert," said one person close to the subject.

However, in an interview broadcast on Saturday, Mr Frère played down the possibility of a bid for Suez. "I don't believe it," he told Canal Z, the Belgian broadcaster. "But if it should come we will face it . . . The shareholders can trust me."

Speculation has been mounting that Mr Frère is looking at other ways to realise the merger of Suez energy interests with those of GdF, given the difficulties surrounding the deal.

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