Frontrunner in Zachodni bid could face anti-trust investigation
THE frontrunner to buy AIB's majority stake in Poland's Bank Zachodni could face an anti-trust probe, it emerged yesterday.
State-controlled PKO has been seen as the lead contender to buy Bank Zachodni after the Polish government encouraged the bank to make a bid and suspended PKO's dividend so the Bank Zachodni offer could be financed.
But news reports in Poland yesterday quoted a spokeswoman for the country's antimonopoly regulator UOKIK (office for competition and consumer protection) expressing competition concerns about a PKO takeover. "Such concentration [as PKO and Bank Zachodni would create] must be investigated," UOKIK spoksewoaman Malgorzata Cieloch told Polish newswires.
"We have already started preparing for this and we are collecting and analysing our evidence."
PKO is already Poland's biggest bank, and under Polish competition law, a monopoly could be created if the Bank Zachodni merger led to market domination in even a single product group.
The State may, however, conditionally allow the takeover if it feels the development is positive for the national economy. The Polish government wants less foreign ownership in its banking sector, and could use that argument to say the deal was in the interests of Poland's economy. Shares in Bank Zachodni closed down 2.5pc for the day, while shares in PKO finished down 1.2pc.
News of the potential competition probe came as the Dow Jones newswire reported that at least seven offers had been received for Bank Zachodni in Monday's first round of bids.
The newswire names PKO and fellow Polish bank, Bank Pekao, as two of the bidders, along with a unit of Unicredit, Russia's Sherbank, HSBC, Italy's Intesa Sanpaolo, France's BNP Paribus and US private equity company Apax. AIB is selling its 70pc stake in the Polish bank as part of a battle to improve its capital position by €7.4bn before the end of the year.