Paris (AFP)

Finally an ally for Suez against the Veolia raid?

The French fund Ardian expressed its "interest" Thursday to buy 29.9% of its capital from Engie, which has given itself until Monday to validate the offer to 3.4 billion euros from Veolia.

For weeks, Suez, giant of environmental services, has opposed the maneuver of its rival Veolia.

But it was until now unable to mount an alternative offer with investors in order to maintain its independence.

Thursday morning, the Ardian fund finally announced in a press release that it had "expressed to Engie its interest in acquiring a 29.9% stake in Suez held by Engie".

"This mark of interest is supported by the board of directors of Suez, and by the director representing the employees," highlighted the investment company, historically linked to the insurer Axa.

It "wishes to constitute a consortium of private and public institutional investors, predominantly French, to carry out this project and launch a friendly public offer".

No further details are communicated.

Wednesday evening, Jean-Pierre Clamadieu, president of Engie, had indicated that Suez had presented at the last minute to the administrators of the group "a vague mark of interest which contained neither the price, nor the consortium of investors on behalf of which it was done, nor the conditions of execution ... ".

But at the end of this board of directors - which met for long hours, just before the expiry of the offer submitted by Veolia - the energy group had indicated that it welcomed the improved terms "favorably". ci, amounting to nearly 3.4 billion euros.

Believing that Veolia's new offer "met" its expectations in terms of prices and social guarantees, Engie said that it had asked the group "to extend the validity of its new offer until October 5, 2020 so that Veolia formalizes its unconditional commitment not to launch a takeover bid that is not friendly ".

A request that Veolia acceded to a few minutes later.

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Also on Wednesday, Veolia had once again unsuccessfully extended its hand to Suez, the umpteenth development in a soap opera that has been shaking the place of Paris for a month.

He had proposed to Suez a period of discussions of six months "to seek the common bases of an agreement" and had undertaken during this period to file "a public offer relating to 70.1% of the capital of Suez only on condition that it is friendly ".

In return, Veolia had asked its competitor to deactivate the foundation under Dutch law which was to house its Water France activity, a "poison pill" intended to derail a takeover.

On several occasions in recent weeks, the State - also a 23.6% shareholder in Engie - has expressed its wish to delay.

"The State will not give in to any pressure. We are not a week, 15 days or three weeks away," the Minister of the Economy, Bruno Le Maire, reiterated on Tuesday.

The stakes are high: Suez estimates that nearly 5,000 jobs could be lost in France if the operation were to be completed, which Veolia firmly denies.

The latter thus reiterated its commitment to "maintain all employee employment in France".

The inter-union CFE-CGC, CFDT, CFTC, CGT and FO of Suez had denounced Wednesday an operation "without any transparency, confidential, even pre-orchestrated".

She "is studying the possibility of asking the prosecutor of the Paris National Financial Prosecutor's Office to request the opening of an investigation into the conditions, which (to him) seem questionable or even criminal, of the attempt to dismantle the Suez group".

© 2020 AFP