Freeport, the European factory outlet developer in which activist investor Laxey Partners has a 29.75% stake, is in talks with potential bidders.

In response to a story in the Times this morning the company issued a statement to the Stock Exchange, confirming ‘that it has received very preliminary approaches regarding a possible offer for the company. Discussions are at a very early stage and there can be no certainty that they will lead to an offer being made for the company.

It is understood that GI Partners, the private equity group, and Kenmore, John Kennedy’s private property company, have expressed early interest in Freeport.

The takeover interest comes days after Freeport said that 12.5% had been wiped off the value of its property portfolio.

The company is also locked in a legal dispute with Sean Collidge, its former executive chairman, who has been accused of financial impropriety against the company he founded. The Freeport board has alleged that r Collidge used a company driver to decorate his own private hotel and that he spent company money on personal meals and hotel visits in the south of France.

Collidge is suing Freeport for £500,000 that he claims he is owed in respect of a compromise agreement upon which, he says, the company reneged. He denies any wrongdoing. Collidge resigned from Freeport on 31 March after a campaign by Laxey for a boardroom shake-up.

A search for a new chief executive is underway and Freeport said this morning that ‘discussions with a number of candidates are at an advanced stage and the company hopes to make an appointment shortly’.

It is thought that Freeport is lining up Iestyn Roberts, who along with two other entrepreneurs Nigel Wright and Chris Howell made an approach to the Freeport board in 2003, but they were rebuffed when the board refused to enter into talks.

It is understood that Laxey Partners is opposing his appointment.