Powergen and E.on merger talks spark conflict chaos

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer elbowed out for Shearman & Sterling; Slaughters scoops UK side

Powergen’s merger talks with utility companies E.on and RWE has thrown the German market into disarray as it tries to avoid conflicts.

But it is UK practice Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer that has found itself at the centre of the storm. The UK arm is Powergen’s only magic circle firm and it handles the majority of its corporate work.

But merger partner Bruckhaus Westrick Heller Lö-ber has a relationship with E.on, mainly through partner Ralph Wollburg.

Powergen has instructed Freshfields so Bruckhaus cannot act for E.on. The German company has instead appointed Hengeler Mueller Weitzel Wirtz’s best friend Slaughter and May and Shearman & Sterling, which got involved through E.on’s investment bank Goldman Sachs.

Hengeler Mueller, meanwhile, is acting for RWE after the client expressly forbade it to work for E.on. It has acted for E.on the past.

Bruckhaus became involved with E.on after client Viag merged with Veba last year to form the company.

Powergen general counsel and company secretary David Jackson refuses to be drawn on the subject other than to say that the thought of using anyone other than Freshfields “never really crossed my mind”.

Last week, E.on confirmed that it was in talks with Powergen after initially denying it. A deal would be worth around £5bn.

The issue of conflicts is indicative of a market that has witnessed a raft of mergers during the past 12 months and the announcement of the Powergen talks comes only days after the Zappia Middle East Construction Company announced it was suing Clifford Chance for conflict of interest.

Freshfields declined to comment.