No decision from Gitanes

LIGIER boss Tom Walkinshaw is having to wait for a decision from Gitanes about its involvement in F1 in 1996. The delay is being caused because the recently-privatized French tobacco company wants to see the results of a French government investigation before deciding whether to continue with the team.

Ligier is still - on paper at least - owned by Flavio Briatore and he has been summoned to appear before the French Commission des Operations de la Bourse (COB) - the body which controls share dealing in France - with regard to his buying and selling of the Kickers shoe company. Briatore, who was a stockbroker in Italy in the early 1970s, bought Kickers from French entrepreneur Roger Zannier in December last year. The move was well-timed for Zannier because the shares in his Groupe Z company had been steadily falling throughout 1994, going from 352 French Francs per share to 150 when he sold Kickers. At the end of June - when the shares of Groupe Z had dropped to around 80FF apiece - Zannier bought Kickers back from Briatore. The shares of Groupe Z have since plummeted to a low of 55FF because investors feel that the repurchase of Kickers must have been done at a loss to the group. The COB feels these actions are completely illogical and wants to find out exactly what is going on.

Gitanes is worried that it will get very bad publicity if it is drawn into a scandal involving Kickers and is making sure the whole matter is settled before it makes its decision about Ligier.

This is bad news for Tom Walkinshaw, who is actually in charge of the team. He has already lost Loto, is facing a big reduction in Elf money and must now wait on a Gitanes decision.

We understand that the Jordan Peugeot team has had preliminary discussions with Gitanes in the event that the tobacco men decide a switch of teams is necessary. The arrival of Gitanes money, allied to Peugeot and Total would increase pressure on Jordan to take a French driver. Olivier Panis has been mentioned as a possible Jordan driver.

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