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By Dominique Vidalon and Pascale Denis
PARIS, June 6 (Reuters) - Europe’s largest hotel group AccorHotels, which wants to limit a push by Chinese shareholder Jin Jiang to increase its stake, should maintain a diverse group of shareholders, French President Francois Hollande said on Monday.
France’s AccorHotels has started talks with other shareholders because it is concerned that state-owned Jin Jiang, already its largest shareholder with a 15 percent stake, owns main French rival Louvre Hotels Group, a source familiar with the matter said on Monday.
French newspapers Le Figaro and the Journal du Dimanche have also reported that Jin Jiang could seek a controlling stake. Hollande said he would be keeping a close eye on developments.
“Accor has Chinese shareholders because it is growing in Asia. But I am watching closely to make sure that the capital of this big company remains in diverse hands,” Hollande told newspaper La Voix du Nord.
Le Figaro said the French government wanted to curb Jin Jiang’s influence amid risk of seeing another prize asset of its CAC40 blue chip index -- like Alcatel which was bought by Finland’s Nokia or Alstom’s power business bought by GE -- falling into foreign hands.
A French banking source however said on Monday it would be hard for the government to “on the one hand welcome Chinese investments in France, notably in the nuclear sector, and on the other hand try to stop a Chinese group in AccorHotels”.
Jin Jiang, owned by the city of Shanghai, recently offered to pay 45 euros per share to U.S. investment fund Colony and private equity group Eurazeo to buy their remaining combined 11.08 percent stake in AccorHotels and the offer is still on the table, the source said.
“Talks have been underway for several weeks between Jin Jiang, AccorHotels, Eurazeo and Colony, focused on board organisation and shareholdings. We need to organise future relations over the long-term,” the source told Reuters.
“There would have to be some way of organising cohabitation with a top shareholder who also happens to be a competitor.”
Spokespeople for Jin Jiang, AccorHotels, Colony and Eurazeo declined to comment.
Under French takeover rules, Jin Jiang would need to bid for the rest of AccorHotels if its stake exceeded 30 percent, but it could exercise strong influence below that level.
Colony and Eurazeo sold a combined 9.6 percent stake on the market in March 2015 at a price of 48.75 euros.
AccorHotels, the world’s fifth largest group, controls 3,900 hotels with a range of brands from luxury Pullman and Sofitel to budget Ibis.
Jin Jiang is among a growing number of Chinese firms investing in Europe’s tourism industry, including Fosun which took control of French holiday group Club Med last year.
Chinese investors poured a record $23 billion in Europe in 2015, including $3.6 billion in France, number three destination for Chinese deals after Britain and Germany, according to a research report by U.S. law firm Baker & McKenzie.
The Journal du Dimanche newspaper said AccorHotels CEO Sebastien Bazin had also held talks with another Chinese conglomerate, HNA, to try to thwart Jin Jiang’s advance.
In a May 27 filing with French market watchdog AMF, Jin Jiang said it controlled 15.06 pct of AccorHotels’ capital and 13.15 pct of voting rights but had no plans to seek control, though it did not rule out seeking board representation.
Bazin told the group’s annual shareholders meeting in April it would be “a good thing” if Jin Jiang eventually won seats on AccorHotels’ board.
Analysts have said Jin Jiang may be beefing up its stake to avoid being diluted when Saudi and Qatari investors get stakes in the company as part of AccorHotels’ $2.9 billion takeover of FRHI Holdings Ltd. AccorHotels is holding a shareholders meeting on July 12 to approve the FRHI Holdings deal.
As part of the deal, AccorHotels will issue new shares. Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) will get a stake of 10.5 percent and Kingdom Holding 4280.SE, Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal’s investment company, a 5.8 percent stake. (Additional reporting by Matthieu Protard and Geert De Clercq in Paris; Editing by Paul Taylor and Anna Willard)