Veolia ups pressure on Suez board to enter takeover talks

PARIS (Reuters) - French water and waste management group Veolia VIE.PA turned up the pressure on bid target Suez SEVI.PA on Tuesday, saying it would take its offer direct to Suez shareholders if the board continued to reject its overtures.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Veolia is seen at the Veolia Campus in Nantes, France, October 5, 2020. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

Veolia also said it was prepared to make an offer before securing regulatory approval, if Suez’s board backed a deal.

Previously, Veolia had said it would seek a negotiated deal and planned to launch its proposed 18 euros per share bid at the latest after obtaining regulatory authorisations, potentially a 12-18 months delay.

Veolia bought an almost 30% stake in Suez last month and said it wanted to buy the rest to create a “world super champion” in waste and water management. The offer would value the whole of Suez at 11.2 billion euros ($13.1 billion).

However, Suez has repeatedly rejected Veolia’s advances, describing them as hostile and a risk to jobs, leading the French government to urge Veolia to commit to a negotiated deal.

“We are convinced that we will manage to persuade the board of directors of Suez, either in its current form or, failing that, after a general meeting, of the relevance of our proposal,” Veolia said on Tuesday.

“The only thing preventing all Suez shareholders from benefiting from a public takeover bid is the opposition from the board of directors of Suez in its current form.”

During a conference call, Veolia CEO Antoine Frerot said the company could take its offer direct to Suez shareholders if the Suez board failed to agree a deal.

“As Suez’s board does not even want to pick up the phone to listen to my project, I will submit it directly to shareholders. This simply means the takeover will take place regardless of circumstances and at the very latest after the next AGM,” he said.

Suez has not set a date for its next annual general meeting (AGM). This year’s AGM was in May. Shareholders could also request an extraordinary meeting.

Veolia has said a combined company would be better able to take on rivals emerging from China, and would be able to deliver 500 million euros in cost savings from the first year.

Suez has created hurdles to a potential deal, including a Dutch-based foundation to house its French water business.

Veolia said on Tuesday the Suez board must “deactivate” this structure, and Frerot said he would seek to annul it legally.

Reporting by Dominique Vidalon, editing by Jane Merriman and Mark Potter