Henri Proglio, chairman of Veolia, on Monday insisted his water, waste and transport group was not at a strategic impasse after abandoning a plan to launch a joint bid with Enel of Italy for its French rival Suez.

Mr Proglio said the group continued to study several options, including a possible bid for the US water business of Germany’s RWE, American Water Works. “We are going to study it,” although adding the chances of acquiring it were “unlikely”. “There are no financial limits [on Veolia]” as the group would be prepared to turn to shareholders for the right deal.”

The head of France’s largest water and waste treatment group said acquisitions would be the exception, however. Announcing a 33 per cent rise in annual net recurring income to €627m ($749m), on sales up 12 per cent to €25.2bn, he stressed the group’s determination to deliver continued organic growth.

He was equally at pains to damp speculation over his role in the controversy surrounding Enel’s botched attempt to launch a co-ordinated bid for Suez. Last month the French government hastily reversed its opposition to a merger of Suez with state-controlled Gaz de France once rumours of Enel’s interest became public.

Enel has since accused Veolia of abandoning a joint bid for Suez after political pressure, even suggesting that French President Jacques Chirac spoke to Mr Proglio. The Veolia boss, who may have to explain his version of events to the European Commission as it investigates Enel’s claims, repeated his insistence that the bid project was abandoned when it became clear it would be hostile.

“We did not want to participate in a hostile market operation,” he said. He also contradicted Enel’s claim that Veolia had suggested the idea of a bid. Mr Proglio repeatedly stressed that Veolia had been approached with an idea that was “intellectually interesting”.

He said that despite the controversy, Veolia would still be interested in acquiring Suez’s international water assets.

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