Doubts cast by Belgium’s new government over what could be Europe’s biggest stock market flotation since Orange in 2001, are keeping the cream of the country’s lawyers on tenterhooks.
Belgium’s dominant fixed-line telecommunications operator Belgacom has already asked a string of firms to pitch for its proposed initial public offering (IPO), with a potential value of E10bn (£6.97bn).
Secretary general and general counsel Michel Vermaerke is understood to be considering firms including Allen & Overy and Linklaters De Bandt. The operator’s principal corporate counsel Eubelius has also pitched and is expected to team up with Baker & McKenzie to cover US-law aspects if successful. The flotation requires a blend of domestic corporate, administrative and labour law expertise, as well as a US capability, therefore only a limited number of firms will be suitable.
However, Belgacom has now had to inform firms that its decision has been delayed. Its minority shareholders – including SBC Communica-tions of the US, TDC of Denmark and Singapore’s SinTel – are eager to sell up, but the Belgian government must give the green light because of its 50.1 per cent stake. A disposal was thought highly likely after the new government was elected in May. A decision was expected at the end of July, but the government has continued to delay, saying that all options are still possible.
Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton is understood to be taking its usual role advising the government. Firms overlooked by Belgacom will have a second chance when banks are appointed, should the IPO go ahead.