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Investor's Cordiant share transactions are criticised.

The Takeover panel yesterday said billionaire investor Nahed Ojjeh had breached its rules by secretly amassing a large stake in media firm Cordiant -just as she upped her holding in the company to 10.95 per cent.

But the panel stopped short of punishing Ms Ojjeh, saying only that she was 'accordingly hereby criticised'.

In a statement to the Stock Exchange, the Takeover panel admonished Ms Ojjeh for not disclosing multiple share transactions, saying 'none of the dealings had been they should have been'.

Under the City Code on Takeovers and Mergers, parties who acquire more than a one per cent stake in a takeover target must disclose their holdings within 24 hours.

But Ms Ojjeh quietly built up a stake in the media firm of more than two per cent, before informing the regulators. And then she raised her holding to over ten per cent without any further notice, the panel said.

Even though the panel did not fine Ms Ojjeh, or recommend financial advisers not to deal with her -a practice known as coldshouldering in financial circles -it is still very rare for the regulators to issue formal criticisms of shareholders.

Paris-based Ms Ojjeh said she now had control of 10.95 per cent of Cordiant's stock.

The news is the latest twist in the ongoing saga for control of Cordiant, which has been hit by the loss of major clients and one of the worst advertising downturns in decades.

However the threat posed by rebel shareholder Active Value to advertising giant WPP's acquisition of Cordiant looked to be weakening after its proposed management team walked away.

Former Jazz FM boss Richard Wheatly and investment banker Stephen Davidson confirmed in a statement that they did not intend to stand for election to Cordiant's board.

The election was due to take place at an emergency meeting of Cordiant shareholders next Wednesday, called by Active Value to oust the current executive team.

But the fund shrugged off the news, saying it would continue 'to look at ways in which the position can be improved for all shareholders'. Active Value's decision to buy into Cordiant remains shrouded in mystery but its attempts to block the takeover appear to be designed to help recoup an investment of more than pounds 30 million in the company.

Mr Wheatly and Mr Davidson had been nominated as executive chairman and finance director respectively and if elected would have been involved in choosing a new chief executive for Cordiant.

Mr Davidson is reported to have stood aside because his bank WestLB withdrew financial support for the Active Value plan.

Behind-the-scenes wranglings have dogged WPP's offer since it was given the green light by Cordiant's management last month.

The meeting will still go ahead, minus the resolutions to appoint the new directors. Cordiant's shares were delisted from the London Stock Exchange on Wednesday.

In a statement Cordiant said the withdrawal of the proposed management team confirmed its view that Active Value's plans did not represent a viable alternative to the WPP takeover.

Cordiant shareholders have been told that failure to back the WPP offer at next week's meeting risks putting the former Saatchi & Saatchi company into administration.
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 18, 2003
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