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LONDON-The European Commission has revealed that it has cleared the acquisition of 73 of the 76 UK hotels owned by the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) for euro 1.46 billion ($1.89 billion). The size of the deal had automatically triggered a referral to the commission under European anti-trust laws, but the statement added that no complaints were lodged with the EC so the deal was approved under a fast-track procedure.

The purchaser is a consortium led by Lehman Brothers and comprising Canadian Realstar Asset Management and GIC Real Estate, which is controlled by the Government of Singapore. The consortium beat rival bids included one understood to include Goldman Sachs’ Whitehall Street Real Estate Fund, whose partner was Westmont Hospitality Group Inc.

The sale comes as part of IHG’s strategy to turn itself into a brand-based hotel management company. Since April 2003, the company has sold or agreed to sell 121 hotels generating receipts of euro 2.55 billion ($3.3 billion). IHG will continue to manage the hotels for 20 years under its own brand name. The 12,841 bedrooms purchased by the consortium in the UK include four Crowne Plaza hotels, 68 Holiday Inns and one Express by Holiday Inn. IHG manages, leases or owns more than 3,500 hotels and 534,000 guestrooms in almost 100 countries.

The disposal falls under a sweeping asset-sale program launched in April 2003, when IHG split from Six Continents. At the time, IHG announced it would dispose of most of the 188 hotels it owned to free money tied up in bricks and mortar to focus more on branding, franchising and managing hotels.

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