Regulator okays Asklepios purchase of Rhoen shares -sources

FRANKFURT, March 14 Thu Mar 14, 2013 6:35am EDT

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FRANKFURT, March 14 (Reuters) - German antitrust regulators approved plans by hospital operator Asklepios to take a blocking minority of more than 10 percent in rival Rhoen-Klinikum under certain conditions, two people familiar with the transaction said.

Asklepios will have to sell two hospitals in the city of Goslar, the people said on Thursday.

Should the decision by the German Federal Cartel Office encourage Asklepios to stock up, Rhoen's options -- as it seeks to forge an alliance or tie-up with peers -- would be limited because Asklepios has opposed such plans.

Regulators have raised doubts over the planned share purchase because due to Rhoen's bylaws, a stake of just 10 percent would give any shareholder a blocking minority and would therefore give Aspklepios some control over a rival.

Asklepios last year bought a stake of less than 10 percent in Rhoen, thwarting a plan by Fresenius, another hospital operator, to acquire Rhoen. That would have created a dominant private-sector player in the hospitals industry in Germany large enough to offer its own medical insurance.

Asklepios, owned by founder Bernard Broermann, is not the only investor hostile to the Rhoen-Fresenius tie-up.

B. Braun, which competes with Fresenius in medical equipment such as infusion and tube feeding supplies, bought a 5 percent stake in Rhoen.

Sources have said that B. Braun is against the tie-up because the deal would put it at risk of losing an important client to Fresenius' medical equipment unit if Rhoen becomes part of Fresenius.

The owners of smaller hospital chain Sana are also said to hold an unspecified stake and could try to block a merger to avoid being marginalised by a new dominant competitor.

Rhoen-Klinikum said in January it will try to persuade the shareholders that blocked its merger with Fresenius to support Rhoen in forging an alliance with peers instead.

Rhoen's founder Eugen Muench last year failed to pull off the deal with Fresenius after underestimating opposition from shareholders. (Reporting by Frank Siebelt and Alexander Hübner)

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