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Lazard man quits M&A watchdog

THE City takeovers watchdog began hunting for a new boss today after the incoming director general was forced to resign over his role in Kraft’s controversial buyout of Cadbury.

Peter Kiernan, a top banker at Lazard, said he would not take the two-year posting at the Takeover Panel after it published a harsh verdict of Kraft’s behaviour during its pursuit of the iconic chocolatier. Lazard, which advised the US conglomerate on the acquisition, was implicitly criticised by the panel.

Kiernan was a key figure on the £11.6bn hostile bid, working through the night of Cadbury’s sale. Last night a source indicated his withdrawal caused embarrassment for both parties, saying: “I don’t think anyone enjoys being in this position.”

Philip Remnant of Credit Suisse will stay in the top job until a successor is found. It is understood the regulator already has several candidates in mind but an appointment may take months to finalise as any senior banker will have to make detailed arrangements for the secondment.

The watchdog yesterday made its first public criticism of a company in three years when it said Kraft, headed by Irene Rosenfeld, was wrong to promise to keep Cadbury’s Somerdale factory in western England open. Kraft repeatedly pledged to save the site although it did not know how advanced Cadbury’s plans were to shift its production to Poland.

The panel said: “Kraft should not have made the statements in the form in which it did in circumstances where it did not know the details of Cadbury’s phased closure of Somerdale.”

The regulator stopped short of formally censuring Lazard. It said the investment bank “failed to discharge fully its responsibilities” to properly advise Kraft but its conduct “was not sufficient to merit public criticism”.

Kraft said it would not appeal. Marc Firestone, general counsel, said: “We regret that, once we had full information, it was not feasible to keep Somerdale open, as we’d originally believed possible.”