Publicis denies bid for Bollore's Havas shares in the offing

Senior sources at Publicis have denied rumours that the company is in talks with Vincent Bollore, the French corporate raider, to buy his stake in Havas.

There has been speculation that Bollore is trying to sell his 15 per cent stake in Havas to Publicis, rather than the previously rumoured WPP. However, these rumours have been scotched by insiders.

Nevertheless, Havas continues to look increasingly precarious since it was beaten by WPP in the $1.5 million bid for the Grey Global network.

Bollore has emerged as the master of Havas' destiny. On top of his shareholding, it is understood he has the support of the Rodes family, which controls a further 2.6 per cent of stock, and the March family, which also owns a significant stake via its investment in Media Planning Group.

A possible lifeline for Havas exists with the potential of a joint venture between Media Planning Group and either Interpublic, or more likely, Omnicom.

However, reports have suggested that Publicis and Havas would make a good fit. Firstly, it would keep the company in French hands. Gallic pride has been bruised after losing out to a British company in the past three takeover battles: in 2001, Havas lost out to WPP in the battle for Tempus and last year, Publicis was beaten by WPP in the fight for Cordiant Communications.

The WPP group chief executive, Sir Martin Sorrell, has made little secret of his interest in Havas, as a whole or in parts.