Card games trigger Panel probe at M&B

REPORTS that Joe Lewis enjoyed games of cards with JP McManus and John Magnier on board his yacht Aviva over the summer, as revealed in City A.M. on 15 September, have prompted the Takeover Panel to re-open their files on alleged collusion between the two parties to seize control of pubs chain Mitchells & Butlers.

City A.M. understands The Takeover Panel has asked both parties for records of all contact in recent months, as M&B’s independent directors become increasingly concerned Lewis is preparing to form a concert party with the Irish tycoons – who hold more than 20 per cent of the company – to buy the business on the cheap.

M&B’s independent directors first accused Lewis, who owns a 22.8 per cent stake in the O’Neill’s and All Bar One owner, of secretly acting in concert with the Irish tycoons to gain control of the pub group’s board at the end of 2009.

At the time, The Takeover Panel dismissed the allegations that “a number of shareholders” were seeking to gain control of the board and of the company to advance the interests of a small group of shareholders at the expense of others.

But concerns that Lewis plans to seize M&B for far below its market value have re-emerged after the forex billionaire announced last Wednesday that he wanted to meet his fellow investors McManus and Magnier “within 48 hours”.

If Lewis joins forces with the Irish horseracing and property magnates, the trio would together own almost half the company, putting Lewis in a strong position to secure backing from other investors to give him a controlling stake.

Piedmont was last night unavailable to comment, while the Takeover Panel said it would not comment on individual cases.