* Investor group filed proposal to drop double voting rights
* Proxinvest, Glass Lewis, ISS support that proposal
* Needs a two-thirds majority to be approved at May 5 AGM
* Chinese, Saudi, Qatari groups are top shareholders
By Dominique Vidalon
PARIS, May 3 (Reuters) - AccorHotels faces a battle at its annual shareholder meeting on Friday as a group of investors tries to block the granting of double voting rights to some long-term shareholders.
Europe’s largest hotel group has seen some big changes in its shareholder base recently, with investors from China, Saudi Arabia and Qatar now holding a combined 29 percent stake.
Soon, these shareholders - which include Chinese competitor Shanghai Jin Jiang - could qualify for double voting rights under rules adopted by the French company.
Critics, including French shareholder advisory group Proxinvest, say that would give them more control over the company without having to pay a premium for that advantage.
Proxinvest is advising a group of 14 shareholders, led by Paris-based investment firm PhiTrust and representing 2.3 percent of AccorHotels’s capital, which has filed a proposal to block the further granting of double voting rights.
Big investor advisory groups Glass Lewis and Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) have backed that proposal.
“Only respecting the ‘one share-one vote’ principle could prevent one of the new major shareholders, notably the Chinese competitor Jin Jiang which for the time being is still denied a seat on the board, from weighing in on group decisions without having to launch a takeover bid,” said Proxinvest.
AccorHotels declined to comment.
Jin Jiang is Accor’s biggest investor with 12.58 percent of the shares and 11.22 percent of the voting rights, having built its stake since late 2015.
French media reports in June 2016 that the Chinese firm could gradually seek to gain more control over Accor drove President Francois Hollande to state publicly that AccorHotels should retain a diverse group of shareholders.
The Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) owns a 10.36 percent stake and Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom Holding a 5.79 percent stake since summer 2016. They also each have a board seat, following Accor’s takeover of luxury hotels group Fairmont Raffles (FRHI).
Last month, AccorHotels’ board rejected the Proxinvest group’s proposal to reinstate the ‘one share, one vote’ principle - known as ‘Proposal A’ - saying it wanted to foster loyalty and stability among shareholders.
In protest, Proxinvest has withdrawn its support for resolutions to re-elect Chairman and CEO Sebastien Bazin to the board and to appoint former French President Nicolas Sarkozy as a board member.
Proposal A will be submitted to a shareholder vote on May 5, but not as one approved by the company’s board. It needs a two-thirds majority to be approved. (Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Mark Potter)