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Blindsided: The surprise visit that led to shock $57b bid for the London Stock Exchange

London Stock Exchange chief David Schwimmer had a visit on Monday from an unexpected guest: Hong Kong Exchanges Clearing Ltd. CEO Charles Li.

In a hastily called meeting, the 58-year-old Li told Schwimmer and LSE Chairman Don Robert that he wanted to buy the three-century-old UK exchange, according to a person familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified discussing a private conversation. The executives were caught off-guard, and were surprised when HKEX made an unsolicited £31.6 billion ($57 billion) bid for LSE less than 30 hours later, the person said.

Charles Li, chief executive officer of Hong Kong Exchanges Clearing.Credit:Bloomberg

Now Schwimmer must decide between HKEX’s offer and his plan to acquire Refinitiv to become a global data powerhouse. If he decides to fend off HKEX’s bid for his marketplace, he can count on some powerful allies. While the offer represents a vote of confidence in London as a post-Brexit financial hub, officials in the UK and UK are likely to look skeptically at the prospect of Chinese links to the world’s biggest venue for handling interest-rate swaps.

“This news comes at a hugely sensitive political moment,” said Scott Colvin, head of public affairs at Finsbury, a corporate public-relations firm. “This plays into the Brexit debate, the imminent general election, and relations with both the UK and China.”