Clearys has bottle for battle of drinks giants

Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton is acting for Coca-Cola in its long running battle to take over Orangina.

Although the battle involves a French beverage owned by wine and spirit group Pernod Ricard, the direction is coming from the US. Cleary Gottlieb is a long-time adviser to the drinks giant.

Coca-Cola's continued fight to be allowed to take over the French company has been prolonged by opposition from a number of parties, including arch-rival PepsiCo which uses the Orangina infrastructure to distribute its products in France.

Aiding PepsiCo in its fight against Coca-Cola is Paris-based firm Simeon & Associes, the beverage giant's legal adviser in the region.

Simeon & Associe's three-strong team is headed by partner Pierre De Montalembert, with two associates.

Although an acquisition agreement was signed in December 1997, it was stopped last year by the French Finance Ministry. It stated that the deal would violate a 1986 law barring mergers resulting in a 25 per cent share of the market. Coca-Cola appealed against the ruling.

The ministry's decision was recently backed up by the Conseil d'Etat, France's highest administrative court, which reasoned that if the deal went ahead Coca-Cola would dominate the soft drinks industry in the catering sector.

Coca-Cola is now looking at a scaled-down version of the deal which would probably exclude the distribution side of the business. It will continue its discussions with the French government.

Coca-Cola's senior competition counsel Ted Lipsky is co-ordinating the legal process from the company's headquarters in Atlanta.

The competition issues are being handled on the Cleary Gottlieb side by Antoine Winckler and Francois Brunet who are both based in the Brussels office, although Winckler spends a considerable amount of time in Paris. Corporate lawyer Jean Paul Vignaud is also involved.

A Coca-Cola spokeswoman said she could not give an estimate of how long it expects the legal proceedings to continue.