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Company News

UPDATE 1-Rebel investors say not seeking to control mall owner Unibail

(Adds detail from statement, call)

Oct 23 (Reuters) - A group of investors that opposes Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield’s planned capital hike said on Friday it did not intend to win control of the company, as it hit back at the shopping mall owner’s COVID-19 recovery plan.

The group, led by French telecoms billionaire Xavier Niel and URW’s former boss Leon Bressler, said it only sought to garner enough support to push through its “Refocus” plan, its answer to management’s proposed 3.5 billion euro ($4.13 billion) capital increase.

The consortium said Unibail does not need the rights issue to meet its financial obligations up to 2023 and that it would destroy the group’s share value.

It plans to oppose the plan at a shareholders’ meeting on Nov. 10, when it will also propose new candidates to the supervisory board.

The group, which now holds a 5% stake in URW, has attacked the firm’s $16 billion acquisition of Australian shopping mall giant Westfield in late 2016 and proposed URW sell its U.S. assets to refocus on Europe.

It will need over a third of voter support to vote down the rights issue, and over half to appoint new board members.

“If there’s no demand for commercial assets, there’s no demand from investors for shares in a company that possesses commercial assets,” Unibail’s former CEO Leon Bressler said in a call with reporters.

Niel said the acquisition was “the original sin” and that the rights issue would hurt stakeholders more than a disposal of U.S. assets.

Bressler said that when he acquired a stake in URW in mid-2019 through his fund Aermont Capital, two years after the acquisition, he had thought the price already reflected the “strategic error” - but due to bad management and COVID-19 the stock had continued to lose value.

Unibail’s share price has lost 72.7% since January as the sector reels from the impact of global lockdowns. ($1 = 0.8476 euros) (Reporting by Sarah Morland in Gdansk; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Alex Richardson)

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