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UPDATE 1-Unibail shareholders reject mall owner's rights issue

Nov 10 (Reuters) – Shareholders of Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield have voted against a planned 3.5 billion euro ($4.15 billion) rights issue, the shopping mall owner said on Tuesday.

This follows vehement opposition from a consortium led by French billionaire Xavier Niel and Leon Bressler, the firm’s former CEO.

Shareholders also approved three appointments to the supervisory board, put forward by the rebel consortium – namely Niel, Bressler and Catalan businesswoman Susana Gallardo.

“We will have to review all possible alternatives to rapidly strengthen the Group’s financial structure,” said chief executive Christophe Cuvillier in a statement.

He added that a possible first COVID-19 global vaccine could significantly help the sector and Unibail’s own recovery plan.

Retailers have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with many forced to close during government-enforced lockdowns. Mall owners have also had to help tenants with rent relief.

Unibail, Europe’s biggest property owner, announced the capital increase in September as part of broader restructuring plan, which includes selling off some 6 billion euros of assets.

After the vote, Cuvillier said the group still planned to implement the plan’s other components.

The consortium had called the issue “completely unnecessary and highly destructive to shareholders” and argued that the firm should sell off its U.S. assets to focus on Europe.

It blamed URW’s 2017 acquisition of Westfield, which is mainly focused on the United States and Britain, for the group’s heavy debt.

Hitting back at the activists, URW has argued its plan was “the only credible response” for the long-term as it tries to protect its credit ratings. ($1 = 0.8432 euros)

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