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  • Apr 29th, 2008
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French boutique investment bank Arjil, involved in high-profile deals such as Groupe Danone SA's $8 billion sale of its biscuit and cereal snack business to Kraft Foods Inc, has found inspiration in the old City of London.

"We believe in the model developed by the old English merchant banks," Arjil President Wladimir Mollof told Reuters. "It was their total independence ... that we like. They were advisors only and they did not participate in the financing of deals."

While traditional British merchant banks such as Kleinwort Benson, SG Warburg and Cazenove have been bought by larger, international banks, Paris remains host to a clutch of boutique firms such as Goetzpartners and Banca Leonardo as well as Arjil.

Earlier this month, Arjil advised French mutually-owned insurer Groupama on its 350 million euro ($558 million) acquisition of Romanian insurer Asiban. The Danone and Groupama transactions show how Arjil has developed a niche after gradually becoming sidelined within high-profile French company Lagardere.

Lagardere, a French media company which also has a stake in European aerospace group EADS, set up Arjil in 1987. However, Arjil soon found itself becoming a non-core part Lagardere and was eventually sold to corporate finance firm Altium Capital for several million euros in December 2004.

Over the past three years, Arjil has taken part in 33 transactions worth a total of more than 7 billion euros. Mollof said the company, which has 25 bankers working for it in Paris, had broken into the top 20 league table of merger and acquisitions advisers in the French market in 2007.

On the Danone/Kraft Foods deal, Arjil worked with Goldman Sachs in advising Kraft on the 5 billion euro take-over. "It was an important on a deal like the Danone one that the public authorities saw that there was a French investment bank working on the case." Mollof said. "The Danone brands being sold were well-known in France and we could help Kraft overcome any potential political issues."

Arjil also has expertise in the eastern Europe and north African markets. The bank is advising on the sale of a stake in Sofia's Municipal Bank and on the sale of a 35 percent stake in Tunisian insurer Star. Mollof said Arjil had other deals lined up for this year. "Our pipeline for 2008 is good," he said.

Copyright Reuters, 2008

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