U.K., Pfizer Cite AstraZeneca Options

LONDON (The Deal) -- U.K. Business Secretary Vince Cable said Tuesday he was working to ensure job and investment commitments made by Pfizer (PFE) in support of its 63.1 billion pound ($106 billion) takeover bid for AstraZeneca (AZN) were legally binding as he left open the option of government intervention in the offer, while warning it was "tricky."

Cable was speaking before a committee of House of Commons lawmakers, who earlier in the day had grilled Pfizer CEO Ian Read about his plans for the unwilling target and heard evidence from AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot.

The offer, which could culminate in the U.K.'s largest ever takeover, has become a lightning rod for concerns that Britain is handing over too much of its industrial base to foreign acquirers. Cable said his government faced a "dilemma" in contemplating such bids.

"We are an open economy. We benefit from it. We don't want to do anything that will disrupt that but there are wider national interests and we want to do our best to protect them," he said.

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He said the long gestation period of any bid -- assuming Pfizer opts to proceed by a May 26 Takeover Panel deadline -- would allow plenty of scope for government intervention after the summer break. This would involve secondary rather than primary legislation, he said, and ministers would also work with the Takeover Panel to examine untested powers to ensure bidders' pre-takeover commitments towards their targets are legally binding.

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