Merger plan
 
The government has repeatedly denied a French magazine report that Chirac had agreed to support an offer by Pinault, whose family controls the retail and luxury group Pinault Printemps-Redoute.
 
France's Financial Markets Authority said its regulatory panel will meet on January 9 to set a deadline by which Pinault must either present an offer for Suez or refrain from bidding for a further six months, as required by French takeover law.
 
Pinault's interest in Suez has cast further doubt on GDF's acquisition of the company, weeks after the French constitutional council effectively postponed the tie-up by seven months by ruling that the government could not reduce its stake in GDF to below 50 per cent before July 1.
 
Under the merger plan, announced by the French government last February, GDF would acquire Suez in a one-for-one stock swap that currently values the utilities company at $60.4bn - including a $1.32 special cash dividend to Suez holders if the deal goes through.