GENEVA -- A bid by former Saudi oil minister Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani to gain a controlling stake in a Geneva maker of prestige watches has been rejected, local authorities said Friday.

Yamani had been negotiating with Geneva authorities for about a year to increase his reported minority share in Vacheron et Constantin watch makers.

Founded in 1755, the company is said to be worth more than 5 million Swiss francs, or $3.6 million.

The Geneva Department of Public Economy turned down Yamani's plan because of laws limiting the amount of land foreigners can buy in Switzerland.

More than a third of the company's assets are in real estate, department official Robert Hensler said.

A foreign company specializing in watches might have been granted a waiver, he added.

Jacques Ketterer, majority shareholder in Vacheron et Constantin, said last year that Yamani had bought a minority stake.

Swiss authorities granted Yamani, his wife and five children residence permits last May to live in Chermignon, a winter resort in the Valais district.

Yamani also has an apartment in Geneva, the site of many meetings of the 13-nation Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. He was replaced as Saudi Arabia's oil minister in October 1986 after dominating OPEC for more than two decades.