* Billionaire supported bid to rival Qatari tie-up
* Planet IB consortium says it has firepower for takeover
* CEO says could make hostile buy-out approach for EFG (Recasts with reaction from buy-out consortium)
By Ehab Farouk and Patrick Werr
CAIRO, June 5 (Reuters) - Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris is still backing an attempted buy-out of investment bank EFG Hermes, the head of the bid consortium said on Tuesday, denying talk that Sawiris planned to withdraw.
An EFG source told Reuters earlier that Sawiris would step aside because EFG shareholders had backed an alternative tie-up with Qatar’s QInvest.
“Mr. Naguib Sawiris remains a financial backer of Planet IB’s intended bid to acquire 100 percent of EFG Hermes Holding,” said Ahmed El-Houssieny, Planet’s chief executive.
Sawiris did not answer several phone calls seeking comment.
Economic turmoil and a morose financial market since a popular uprising have left EFG lacking the means for its ambition to expand across the Middle East and in March it announced talks over an alliance with Qatar’s QInvest.
But last week Planet, which groups Egyptian and Gulf Arab investors, announced a rival bid for EFG.
The consortium said on Friday it was prepared to pay a minimum of 13.50 Egyptian pounds per share for the Cairo-based bank, which would value it at $1.1 billion at least. It said Sawiris, one of Egypt’s richest men, was a backer.
Then on Saturday EFG shareholders voted to go ahead with the QInvest tie-up, which would give the Qatari firm 60 percent of EFG’s main investment banking operation.
Houssieny has vowed to press on with Planet’s bid, saying it had the financial firepower it needs and would consider a hostile approach for Egypt’s biggest investment bank.
The EFG source, who asked not to be named, said Sawiris dropped out because a condition for his taking part was that EFG shareholders would vote against the QInvest venture.
The source said EFG received a phone call from Sawiris saying “he would have participated in the Planet offer to buy EFG Hermes on condition that the EFG Hermes extraordinary general assembly vote against the strategic coalition with QInvest, and that did not happen”.
But Planet’s CEO said Sawiris had not changed his stance.
“We have in the past minutes directly confirmed with Mr. Sawiris that he remains solidly in our corner. Mr. Sawiris’ support is conditional on Planet IB being allowed to conduct due diligence (on EFG),” Houssieny said.
EFG shares, which fell as much as 9.9 percent early on Tuesday, recouped most of the decline to close down 0.7 percent.
EFG said on Monday it was taking legal measures to protect the company and its shareholders from Planet’s takeover attempt.
EFG stock plunged after Egypt’s popular uprising last year and the bank came under further pressure last week when its two chief executives were referred to trial alongside former president Hosni Mubarak’s two sons as part of a probe into illegal share dealings.
The bank said the allegations levelled at its executives were false and it vowed to defend them.
Houssieny said his group would take their bid hostile if necessary, but not before due diligence proceedings that would allow them closer scrutiny of EFG’s accounts.
“We are investigating with the regulator the possibility of launching a public tender offer subject to due diligence,” the CEO told Reuters.
EFG management has questioned the credibility of the Planet approach and its ability to finance a buy-out. EFG has a market capitalisation of around $870 million, less than half of its value before the uprising.
Houssieny said Planet had secured $650 million of credit financing by signing an arrangement mandate that could be presented to Egypt’s financial regulator EFSA.
He said 13.50 pounds per share was the minimum offer that Planet would make but it was “entirely contingent upon EFG Hermes opening its books to due diligence by Planet IB”.
“It is impossible to consider undertaking a transaction of this size without the opportunity to do legal, financial and commercial due diligence on the same terms as were afforded our competitor,” he said. (Writing by Tom Pfeiffer; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)