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By | Kelly Fiveash 9th April 2008 16:02

Atos Origin board candidate blasts 'scandalous' talks

Stunned by management pay-off chatter

A potential Atos Origin candidate for the French IT services firm's supervisory board has labelled management pay-off talks as "scandalous".

Colette Neuville, who is chairman of shareholder rights' group Adam, was one of three candidates proposed by some angry members of private equity funds Centaurus Capital L.P. and Pardus Capital Management L.P, to take a seat on the board.

Neuville said it was "crazy" that Atos had discussed a €70m bonus for accepting a new restructuring plan put forward by Pardus, prior to it buddying up with Centaurus, reports today's Financial Times.

Atos had been in talks with potential buyers last year before cutting loose and deciding to go it alone, much to the anger of some Centaurus and Pardus shareholders who had called for the firm to seek tie-ups with other companies.

"I was very shocked by the fact that the directors of Pardus and Atos had discussed this." Neuville said she was "disappointed" with Pardus, but added "it is not a reason why [Philippe] Germond [CEO] and the management are right".

It is also understood, according to the FT, that disgruntled shareholders will attempt to oust the firm's chairman Didier Cherpitel at next month's AGM.

Meanwhile, another candidate lined-up by the funds to join the board – Atos founder Bernard Bourigeaud, who was dethroned as CEO last year – said he opposed any suggestion of a break-up.

The final man in the frame, chief exec of TDF Michel Combes, said he would cut relations with Pardus if elected. Combes has had some dealings with Pardus in the past over its holding French car parts maker Valeo.

Rebel shareholders from both groups have been doing their best to stir things up among the management team ahead of the firm's annual shareholder meeting on 22 May. The two funds jointly own 21.67 per cent of Atos.

The row erupted last month when Atos made the decision to block its main shareholders from joining its supervisory board. ®

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