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PARIS (Reuters) - France's market watchdog on Tuesday blocked an all-share buyout offer for SFR by European telecoms group Altice, in a rare move which Altice CEO Michel Combes said was "totally incomprehensible" and could hurt Paris as a financial center.
The AMF watchdog said the offer by Altice (ATCA.AS) to buy the shares it did not already own in telecoms group SFR (SFRGR.PA) did not comply with rules. It gave no reason to explain this rare decision but said it would soon do so.
"This is totally incomprehensible," Combes told Reuters in a phone interview.
"At a time when many wonder, because of Brexit, to which big economic and financial center they should move ... this is sending a signal of complete unpredictability," he said.
Altice, the Luxembourg-based telecoms and media group controlled by Franco-Israeli billionaire Patrick Drahi, wanted to simplify the group's structure by exchanging 8 Altice class A shares for 5 SFR Group shares for the outstanding 22.25 percent of SFR shares it does not yet own.
"Our offer is over and we'll move on to something else," Combes said in the interview, although he added that the group might still appeal against the watchdog's decision.
Altice said in a statement that its industrial strategy and plans for growth in France and abroad remained unchanged.
"Altice regrets this decision, which goes against the interests of both companies, their shareholders and employees," the statement said.
SFR said separately that it had taken note of AMF's decision, without any other comment.
The AMF declined to comment. It is likely to publish late on Wednesday a statement explaining its decision.
Additional reporting by Bate Felix; Writing by Ingrid Melander