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WPP denies speculation it is set to bid for Havas

LONDON - Shares in the advertising network Havas rose an estimated 4% by close of market on the back of speculation that WPP Group was courting it as an acquisition target, a claim that WPP has this morning denied.

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The price hike in Havas shares was also fuelled by the yesterday's news that three senior Publicis Groupe executives had defected from the French ad group to form a start-up ad agency backed by Vincent Bollore, chairman of Havas.

Christophe Lambert, Publicis Conseil chairman, is being joined by Frederic Raillard and Farid Mokart, co-partners at Marcel, the boutique agency owned by Publicis. The three are reported to have been key figures in obtaining the £200m international Orange account for the network in March.

The new shop will go by the name Fred/Farid/Lambert. It will be based in Paris and will open in January. Bollore will own a 30% stake in the start-up, with the remainder being owned by the founders of the new venture.

The Havas chairman is understood to have forged a strong relationship with the WPP chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell, because of their mutual interest in acquiring the assets of UK-based media network Aegis. The two are reported to have talked regularly in recent years and discussed a potential joint bid for Aegis.

Bollore currently owns just over 29% of shares in Aegis and has been linked with a takeover bid for the company. Sorrell is believed to be interested in cutting a deal with Bollore for the company's research arm Synovate, should Bollore acquire the network.

Aegis, which owns media networks Carat and Vizeum, has confirmed it will hold an extraordinary general meeting to vote on the issue of putting two of Bollore's preferred candidates - Roger Hatchuel and Philippe Germond -- on the board of the company.

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