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Consortium including billionaire Whittaker eyes possible bid for Intu

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By Ben Martin

LONDON (Reuters) – A consortium including British billionaire John Whittaker and Canada’s Brookfield Asset Management <BAMa.TO> is considering a bid for Intu Properties <INTUP.L>, the 2 billion-pound shopping centre owner.

Peel Group, which is the investment vehicle of the Whittaker family, Saudi Arabia’s Olayan Group and property investor Brookfield said on Thursday they were weighing a cash offer for the London-listed company behind sites such as Manchester’s Trafford Centre.

“The consortium’s consideration of the possible offer is at a preliminary and exploratory stage and no approach has been made to the board of Intu,” the group said in a statement.

Whittaker, who is already Intu’s largest shareholder, has long been linked to a potential takeover of the company.

His Peel Holdings owns a stake of about 27 percent in the shopping centres business, according to Refinitiv Eikon data, and he sits on Intu’s board as deputy chairman.

Whittaker became its biggest investor in 2011 when he sold the Trafford Centre to Capital Shopping Centres, which was subsequently renamed Intu.

Peel and Olayan, the conglomerate founded by the Olayan family, together hold 29.9 percent of Intu, the consortium said.

Intu has been left vulnerable to a bid after British rival Hammerson scrapped a 3.4 billion takeover of the company in April.

Like other property businesses, Intu has been hit by tough conditions in the UK’s retail sector this year that have forced a number of shopping chains to collapse.

Hammerson abandoned its bid for Intu amid concerns from its own shareholders that the deal would boost its exposure to British retailers at a time when it should be diversifying away from the UK instead.

Intu is also searching for a new chief executive to replace its long-serving boss David Fischel, who is due to leave once a replacement has been appointed.

Intu shares closed at 148.55 pence, having tumbled about 41 percent since the start of the year.

Under British rules, the suitors now have until November 1 to make a firm offer or walk away.

Intu said it had formed an independent committee made up of all of its directors except for Whittaker to consider any approaches from the suitors.

(Reporting by Ben Martin in London; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Alexandra Hudson)

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