By  on September 12, 1994

MILAN -- The continuing saga of GFT SpA has taken a new turn, with the announcement Friday by CVC Capital Partners, a venture capital firm in the Citicorp group, that it has made an independent bid to acquire the troubled maker of designer label apparel.

The development also unleashed speculation about possible participants in a CVC deal -- including, once again, Benetton and Fiat.

In disclosing its bid, CVC also said that it would bring back former

GFT managing director Clemente Signoroni to run the company.

The bid would be financed by Citibank N.A., the Italian subsidiary of the U.S. banking group.

"This is a very complicated situation, and we felt it was important to make an announcement," Roberto Lombardi, CVC director, said Friday, explaining that the announcement was prompted by rumors in the market here that the Citicorp group was in alliance with another GFT suitor, Mexican entrepreneur Fabio Covarrubias. As reported, Covarrubias, according to sources, has put $250.5 million (397 billion lire) at current exchange on the table to buy GFT.

"There is no agreement between CVC and the Covarrubias group regarding a joint acquisition of GFT," CVC said in a statement. CVC added that it has reached an accord with Signoroni, who would return to his post in the event that CVC takes control of GFT. Lombardi declined to comment on details of the proposal, but sources familiar with the proposal have said it is about $265.1 million (420 billion lire).

Meanwhile, Milan merchant bank Mediobanca, which is masterminding GFT's financial restructuring, is said to be still negotiating exclusively with Plaid Clothing Group PLC. Plaid, a United States-based men's wear manufacturer, put down a $7.5 million (12 billion lire) deposit last March to secure its status as sole bidder for GFT.

After completing due diligence, Plaid offered $246.1 million (390 billion lire) for GFT, which rings up annual sales of about $883.5 million (1.4 trillion lire) and produces various lines for some of the world's top designers, including Giorgio Armani, Calvin Klein, Claude Montana, Emanuel Ungaro and Valentino.

Reportedly, Plaid's exclusive status has been extended to Sept. 15, although it could be extended to the end of the month, according to sources familiar with the talks. They also said that Plaid has guarantees of 80 to 90 percent of its financing."Mediobanca isn't talking to anybody else until Plaid's exclusive expires," said one financial source. Mediobanca declined to comment on the talks.

News of the CVC bid rekindled speculation here about the role of Fiat group investment company Gemina SpA and its sportswear maker, Fila SpA, in a possible GFT takeover. Before his abrupt resignation from GFT in June, Signoroni reportedly was championing an effort to pursuade the Fiat group companies to consider acquiring a stake in GFT. A spokesman for CVC Friday said their offer would certainly bring in a group of private shareholders, although he said he didn't know who they might be.

-- Fairchild News Service

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