Daughter of Publicis founder goes to court to dissolve holding company

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PARIS -- As she threatened to do unless otherwise satisfied, the youngest daughter of the late Publicis founder, Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet, has filed a court case with a Paris tribunal seeking the dissolution of the family holding company that controls a blocking minority in Europe's second-largest advertising network. Michele Bleustein-Blanchet is asking the Paris tribunal to disband the Somarel holding company - which commands 45% of Publicis' voting rights and 38% of its capital - so that she can sell off her stake in the more financially lucrative form of a direct 7% share of Publicis.

Under terms of the 1970 agreement between the five family members participating in the holding, shares in Publicis would be held indirectly via titles owned in Somarel, which can only be sold as Somarel stocks after giving fellow share holders the right of first refusal. Because they are locked within the Somarel structure, Ms. Bleustein-Blanchet's 29.7% stake in the holding would be worth far below their estimated $120m-$150m price as freely traded Publicis stock.

The court case accuses Ms. Bleustein-Blanchet's older sister and leading Somarel investor, Elisabeth Badinter, of using the holding to "obtain absolute power over family property in defiance of the most fundamental rules of succession". The case asks the court to dissolve Somarel in order to allow its members to do with their shares of Publicis as they wish. Ms. Badinter, who owns 33.4% of the holding and is often depicted as the guardian of her father's legacy, is said to maintain a stormy relationship with her sister. Ironically, it was Mr. Bleustein-Blanchet's hope in founding Somarel that by pooling family stakes in Publicis, he had created a solid and unassailable fortress that would leave the agency immune to hostile outside attacks.

Copyright October 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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