Linklaters and Paul Weiss lead as Kraft Heinz withdraws Unilever mega-merger bid

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Linklaters and Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison have taken the lead roles on Kraft Heinz’s multibillion-dollar bid for Unilever, a deal that has been called off after the US food company withdrew its takeover offer.

Kraft Heinz went public with its approach to Unilever last week, making an offer reportedly worth $143bn (£115bn), in what could have become one of the largest M&A transactions in history.

However, Unilever said the bid “fundamentally” undervalued the company, and yesterday (19 February) announced that Kraft Heinz had “amicably agreed to withdraw its proposal for a combination of the two companies“.

Linklaters has been advising Unilever on the bid, fielding a team including global corporate head Aedamar Comiskey, global consumer co-head Paul McNicholl and corporate partner Nick Rumsby.

Meanwhile, Paul Weiss is understood to have been advising Kraft Heinz. The US firm last year recruited Cravath Swaine & Moore M&A heavyweight Scott Barshay, who advised Heinz on its merger with Kraft in 2015.

Kraft Heinz said in a statement last week that it had “made a comprehensive proposal to Unilever about combining the two groups to create a leading consumer goods company with a mission of long-term growth and sustainable living”.

However, Unilever responded by saying that it saw “no merit, either financial or strategic, for Unilever’s shareholders”.

Investment banks Centerview Partners, Morgan Stanley, UBS and Deutsche Bank were among the financial advisers to Unilever. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer dealmaker Mark Rawlinson, who joined Morgan Stanley last year as head of its UK investment banking arm, was part of the bank’s team on the proposed deal.

Meanwhile, Kraft Heinz has been taking financial advice from Lazard, with former Freshfields senior partner Will Lawes – who joined the bank at the start of the year – playing a key role.

The lead role for Linklaters is notable as Slaughter and May has traditionally been the main corporate adviser to Unilever. However, Linklaters has picked up a number of key mandates for the company in recent years, including advising on a $5.4bn (£4.5bn) deal to increase its stake in Hindustan Unilever, the publicly listed Indian subsidiary of the consumer goods giant. The magic circle firm also acted on Unilever’s €390m (£330m) acquisition of an 82% stake in Russian beauty company Concern Kalina in 2011.

The roles followed the 2010 appointment of former Linklaters partner Tonia Lovell as chief legal officer and company secretary of Unilever, after three years as the company’s UK and Ireland general counsel.

Linklaters and Paul Weiss declined to comment. Unilever and Kraft Heinz did not respond to requests for comment.