Spanish minister withdraws from talks on Naturgy bid over conflict of interest

MADRID, Feb 17 (Reuters) – Spain’s Industry Minister Reyes Maroto will withdraw from talks on an Australian asset manager’s 5 billion euro ($6 billion) bid for a 23% stake in Naturgy because her husband works at the gas group, the ministry said Wednesday.

IFM Global Infrastructure needs a specific government authorisation for its bid after Madrid tightened rules on foreign takeovers in response to plummeting share prices during the coronavirus pandemic.

IFM has been sharing information with Maroto’s Industry Ministry and is expected to hand in a formal request to authorise the purchase shortly, two people familiar with the matter said.

Maroto’s husband works as an engineer at Naturgy, which changed its name from Gas Natural as part of a management overhaul in 2018, but does not hold an executive position, the spokeswoman said.

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez will have to choose another minister to lead the process when the cabinet discusses the takeover bid, the spokeswoman said.

Naturgy shares were 0.4% lower on Wednesday at 20.62 euros.

The cash offer of 23 euros per share caused Naturgy’s shares to jump over 16% to 22.7 euros on Jan. 26 when it was made public, and they are still about 9% higher than at the start of the year.

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