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LIC ahead in chase for ACC shares

Mumbai, Oct. 8: It was billed as an auction that could threaten to tilt the balance of power within the ACC boardroom. When the gavel came down, no one revealed who the mystery buyer of scam-smudged shares was.

Sources at the custodian’s office said there was only one bidder for 1.63 crore tainted ACC shares owned by the kingpins of the 1992 scam. Its identity will be known only when the special court opens the bids on Friday.

Sources, however, said Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC) was the solitary contender for the shares, worth Rs 300 crore when they landed with the court, but Rs 347.19 crore if valued at today’s closing price. They represent 10 per cent of the company’s equity.

An air of suspense hung over just how many hats were in the ring. Some said there was just one — that of LIC. Others said there were six. Officially, it was a secret. The buzz about six bidders could have come from speculators who have piled up ACC shares, say analysts.

The ACC stock did not betray the taut nerves: It was up only Rs 1.80 at Rs 213 on Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE). Analysts expect LIC to offer less than the share’s going rate, but closer to its six-month average of Rs 174.

The bids were opened today in the custodian’s office, where income-tax officials were also present. A decision will be taken after the special court evaluates them.

Stock market rumours suggested six bidders, including Abhishek Dalmia of Rennaissance Securities. Even the name of Dalmia Cement was bandied about. The visitors’ roster outside the custodian’s office listed officials of LIC, GIC, ILFS, Kotak Mahindra and I-Sec among those who had checked in. However, I-Sec executives on their way out claimed they were there as part of the disposal panel set up by the special court.

The auction was not missing on drama. Five family members of former Big Bull Harshad Mehta approached the court hearing cases related to the securities scam of 1992 with a plea to prevent the bidding.

The boards of Gujarat Ambuja, which control a large slice of ACC’s equity capital, and ACC itself, did not comment — a sign they had nothing to worry about.

ACC has a reputation for being run by independent professionals in the absence of any promoters at the helm. Global cement majors Lafarge or Holcim eyeing a stake in ACC will have to get an approval from Foreign Investment Promotion Board and sanction from the board of the company.

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