Steel Partners has warned Sapporo Holdings that its 'advanced warning system' (AWS) is being used in an "inappropriate" manner to ward off attempts by the company to buy the Japanese firm.

The US private equity group has written to Sapporo's board, declining to answer some of the questions it has asked of Steel Partners about its intentions to increase its Sapporo stake to 66.6% from its current 17% holding.

"In light of the board's reluctance to enter into a mutual confidentiality agreement prior to receiving the fund's answers to the AWS questions, we have made a good faith effort to provide the board as much information as possible," Steel Partners told Sapporo yesterday (15 May). "The fund (Steel Partners) has to ask whether the true purpose of the AWS questions is to provide a back and forth of unanswerable questions that would delay for an indefinite period of time the ability of Sapporo's shareholders to consider the fund's proposal.

"Sapporo has used the purported legitimacy of the AWS to formulate a series of questions that are clearly inappropriate and overly broad," Steel Partners noted.

The equity group is offering JPY825 (US$6.85) per common share in what it emphasised is a "friendly" offer, but added that it was open to hearing Sapporo's board's thoughts on the equity value. Steel Partners has offered Sapporo the opportunity to meet with the group "as soon as possible".

Earlier this year, Sapporo's shareholders approved the proposed anti-takeover measures, designed to protect the company from a hostile takeover.