Britain's richest man is bidding to take control of a portfolio of assets that would turn him into of the country’s biggest construction materials tycoons.
I have learned that Lakshmi Mittal, whose £12.7bn fortune was generated largely in steel manufacturing, has thrown his hat into the ring to buy a string of cement plants and quarries put up for sale by Anglo American (LSE: AAL.L - news) and Lafarge (Hanover: 850646 - news) .
The assets are being sold under orders from the Competition Commission to offload them as a pre-condition for approving the merger of Tarmac, Anglo’s UK construction business, and Lafarge’s UK operation.
Mr Mittal, whose wealth was estimated at £12.7bn by this year’s Sunday Times Rich List, is bidding through one of his private ventures rather than through ArcelorMittal (Other OTC: ARCXF.PK - news) , the global steel giant he heads as chairman and chief executive.
His involvement in the auction may, nevertheless, raise eyebrows because Bruno Lafont, the chairman and chief executive of Lafarge, is also a board member of ArcelorMittal.
The merger of the Anglo and Lafarge businesses will create an operation with more than 7,000 employees and almost £2bn of annual turnover.
In a statement in May, the Competition Commission said it wanted to see the asset portfolio sold to a single buyer in order to avoid a diminution of competition in an important industrial market.
"A large-scale disposal like this is the only way to get a new entrant of sufficient scale to break into the UK cement market and thereby ensure that this joint venture does not damage competition. In bulk cement, there are currently only four UK producers and there is evidence that competition is not as effective as it could be," said Roger Witcomb, chairman of the Anglo/Lafarge inquiry group.
"So, if the joint venture is to go ahead, it is essential to maintain the number of cement producers by bringing in a new player through the sale of the Hope cement plant—one of the largest in the country."
It is unclear whether Mr Mittal is interested in all of the assets being sold or whether he will look to join forces with another bidder. Other suitors for the cement plants and quarries are understood to include Breedon Aggregates (LSE: BREE.L - news) .
The other major players in the building materials market, which include Heidelberg, owner of Hanson, Aggregate Industries and Cemex, have been ruled out of the auction process on competition grounds.
An ArcelorMittal spokesman declined to comment.