Xavier Niel regains control against CMA-CGM

The appeals court of Aix-en-Provence gave the boss of Free the right to oppose the arrival of a new shareholder in the capital of the press group.

Power has just switched sides in southeastern France. Thursday, April 7, the Court of Appeal of Aix-en-Provence returned to: Xavier Nielwhich through its participation NJJ owns 11% of Provence (ProvenceCorsica Press), the possibility to oppose the arrival of a new shareholder in the capital of the press group. This one “right of approval“(or veto), which he has as a minority shareholder in the articles of association of La Provence, was suspended in early January by the commercial court of Marseille.

The founder of Free therefore returns in the game against Rodolphe Saadé, boss of the shipping company from Marseille CMA-CGMso far the favorite to acquire Groupe Bernard Tapie (GBT)’s 89% stake in Provence† †The state of disordermentioned by the liquidators of the GBT, who demanded the suspension of the veto, ishypothetical“The Aix Court of Appeal concluded. After this interim decision, Xavier Niel is both player and referee. She again deals the cards in this case that has been troubling the city of Marseille for six months.

CMA-CGM’s bid in Niel .’s hands

Determined to pay off his first assets in the press, Rodolphe Saadé had put 81 million euros on the table to buy out Tapie’s shares. That is four times more than the valuation of Provence and the 20 million euros promised by Xavier Niel. The latter, also a shareholder of the Nice-Matin Group, had chosen not to play the one-upmanship game against Rodolphe Saadé, because he knew he could count on the eventual restoration of his right of approval. One of the key points of his project is that Xavier Niel aims to build by 2024 in the Var a printing press common to the daily newspapers La Provence and Nice-Matin.

Declared favorite by the liquidators of the Commercial Court of Bobigny (competent for the takeover file), i.e. the best bidder, the offer of CMA-CGM received a favorable opinion two weeks ago from the CSE (corporate social committee) of the six subsidiaries of the La Provence group, interviewed as part of an information consultation procedure.

As of now, with the restoration of his right of approval, Xavier Niel has a duty to study the terms of the CMA-CGM offer in the coming days, to decide whether to approve it or not. In the latter case, Xavier Niel will then be given the opportunity to formulate a new takeover bid. It must then be submitted to the various parties in the file, who issue an opinion. If the offer is not definitively accepted by the judicial liquidators Me Xavier Brouard and Me Marc Sénéchal, the judiciary will have to contact a new expert, so that he decides again on the valuation of La Provence. † One of the goals of the liquidators, who want to repay the state for the 400 million euros debt left behind by the late Bernard Tapie, is to get a very good price.

Employee uncertainty

After this umpteenth turn, the 850 employees of La Provence, in the middle of this confrontation, are afraid that this takeover file will get bogged down in multiple legal remedies. According to the timetable for the tender procedure, a final decision should be taken by 4 July 2022. “It is the concern that prevails today, because we believe that the timetable will not be respected, says Audrey Letellier, SNJ union representative from Provence. If CMA-CGM’s offer is not approved, we would like Xavier Niel to join the guarantees we had obtained from the shipowner, namely the amount of the investments, the replacement of all transfer clauses and a commitment not to to touch our social assets”

Other scenarios may also arise. Because Xavier Niel could use the recovery of his power to enter into negotiations with Rodolphe Saadé. The idea was to know at what price the Franco-Lebanese businessman would be willing to buy back his 11% stake. The two men could also agree on a minority stake of CMA-CGM in the group’s capital.

Provence, whose sales have been declining for years, is in a bad financial position. In 2020, La Provence’s losses amounted to 7 million euros. To repay its debts, the daily recently sold its headquarters for 35 million euros. The editors have to pack before 2024.

ALSO SEE – Xavier Niel fired by the employees of La Provence