UK - The success of a £10.6bn (€15.2bn) takeover bid for J Sainsbury, one of the UK's largest supermarket chains, is now said to hinge on an agreement between the pension trustees and the bidders over the future of the pension scheme.

Qatari investment fund Delta Two is expected to make a formal offer for the retailer within days.

However, according to media reports, J Sainsbury's family shareholders will only recommend the offer if the pension trustees are able to reach an agreement with Delta Two over the ongoing funding of the pension fund.

The trustees oversee 85,000 members and more than £4bn in assets. The total deficit for the schemes as at October last year was estimated to be £477m.

Unite, Britain's largest union, has previously urged the board to block any bid by Delta Two, citing concerns over the pension scheme.

"Whenever a private equity-type company comes in it is normal for the pension trustees to want assurances on the future of the fund," a Unite spokesperson said.

"Sainsbury's offers a good pension scheme and there is a tendency for private equity companies to close it down or minimise their exposure to it so our aim from a union perspective is to put some backbone into the trustees."

Delta Two is understood to have pledged £1.5bn to the pension fund.

The Sainsbury's family's support for the bid is crucial as it holds an 18% stake. The Qatari fund requires support from shareholders controlling 75% of the company for the takeover to be successful.

A spokesperson for J Sainsbury refused to comment on the "rumour and speculation" in recent media reports.

She reiterated that the company had opened up its books for due diligence, as announced in a joint statement by the company and Delta Two on 20 September, and added that this could take a number of weeks to complete.

The board agreed to open its books to Delta three weeks ago following 10 weeks of negotiations. 

At the time the two parties issued a joint statement on their discussions over the possibility of Delta Two acquiring Sainsbury's at a price of 600 pence in cash per ordinary share.

"Following extensive discussions between the parties concerning the key aspects of Delta Two's proposal and, following the submission of a revised proposal by Delta Two, the board of Sainsbury's has unanimously agreed that Delta Two may undertake a limited period of confirmatory due diligence on the company in order to progress its proposal," the parties said at the time.

"There can, however, be no certainty that any offer for Sainsbury's will be made."

The statement noted Delta Two's intention to work "constructively with the Sainsbury pension trustees to reach agreement on the appropriate level of funding for the schemes".

A spokesperson for the pension trustees did not return requests for comment before deadline.