Publicis and Active Value in Weekend Meeting

14 July 2003

Britain's Takeover Panel is expected to launch a probe into a meeting held over the weekend between Paris-headquartered agency giant Publicis Groupe and London shares speculator Active Value Advisors.

Details of the meeting were not disclosed – although Publicis let it be known it had rejected yet another proposition tabled by Julian Treger and Brian Myerson, the foxy duo behind AVA who have built a 28.75% stake in Cordiant Communications. There has been much theorizing that Publicis and AVA are in cahoots to overturn WPP Group’s agreed bid to buy Cordiant.

Meantime, Publicis chairman Maurice Levy on Sunday denied any direct connection with the exotic Madame Nahed Ojjeh, the Syrian-born billionairess who has amassed a significant holding in Cordiant over the past fourteen days. Levy dismissed suggestions that Ojjeh might be fronting for Publicis as an aspersion on the company’s ethics and 75-year history.

Although he knew Ojjeh socially, he had not seen her since at least last autumn. “She is part of le tout Paris and I have met her at a lot of dinners and cocktail parties but she never told me anything.” The first he knew of her Cordiant shopping spree was a courtesy call on June 30 from her lawyer, Jean Veil, who sometimes acts for Publicis.

“It was a two or three-minute conversation and that was it. I was surprised to say the least as I fail to understand the move.” And when it was put to Levy that former Vivendi Universal chairman Jean-Marie Messier might be advising Ojjeh, he was sceptical.

"Maybe he is, but knowing Jean-Marie, I would say no, because he is clever and would have called me. He needs to rebuild his reputation and would not do anything that would look bad.”

Levy admitted close contact with Active Value, but insists his interest in Cordiant is confined to its 25% stake in Zenith Optimedia and related franchises.

Ojjeh, the while, although claiming to be out of Paris “until the end of the month”, on Friday finally issued a disclosure statement revealing she and her family have bought 9.89% of the company since June 27 – slightly less than the 10.75% previously reported.

The document reveals that Ojjeh herself bought 17.5m shares in Cordiant; Dacor, a company owned entirely by her, has acquired another 14.3m shares; while her son Akram Ojjeh and daughter Lara Tlass own 4.8m shares in Cordiant between them.

The statement cast no light on the motives underlying her shopping spree.

Data sourced from: multiple origins; additional content by WARC staff