Czech tycoon Daniel Kretinsky and his Slovak partner Patrik Tkac have agreed to acquire French publishing group Editis and have bid to increase their share in French retail chain Casino.
International Media Invest (IMI), controlled by Kretinsky and Tkac’s Czech Media Invest (CMI), issued a statement saying it had agreed with French Vivendi on acquiring its leading publishing group Editis.
In a separate development, their EP Global Commerce (EPCG) proposed to increase its share in the French retail chain Casino Group to 40%, which could lead to a change of control in Casino. Kretinsky’s and Tkac’s VESA Equity Investment is already a Casino shareholder with a 10.06% stake.
Kretinsky already has stakes in France's Le Monde newspaper and TV group TF1, and magazines Elle and Marianne. VESA Equity Investment has also become the largest shareholder of French retailer Fnac Darty, with a 25.03% stake.
“The acquisition of Editis strengthens CMI’s development strategy in France in the content industry and confirms CMI’s long-term ambitions in the media segment, while complying with the dimension of cultural exception specific to these activities,” the statement distributed by CMI’s director Daniel Castvaj reads.
“The completion of this transaction is expected to take place in the next few months and is subject to the consultation of the unions and required regulatory approvals,” the statement added.
Vivendi has been looking for an opportunity to unload Editis to buy Lagardere Publishing, including its imprint Hachette. The European Commission objected to Vivendi’s joint ownership of Hachette and Editis. Vivendi was reviewing four offers before entering into negotiations with IMI. They have now agreed a put option with IMI.
The €1.1.bn bid for Casino by EPCG, where Kretinsky is a 53% and Tkac 47% a shareholder, could complicate the talks Casino’s controlling 51% shareholder and its founder, French Jean-Charles Naouri, is holding with food retailer Teract of billionaire Xavier Niel.
In its press release, Casino Group stated, "if it were to respond positively to this proposal, the implementation of the transactions […] could lead to a change of control of Casino and to a dilution which might be very significant for existing shareholders.”
The Financial Times noted that Casino’s finances are fragile, and the group struggles to pay down its debt. Naouri could be prompted to give up his control of Casino, something he has so far avoided by rejecting previous offers from rival Carrefour. In the press release, Casino said it is also considering filing for a court-appointed official to oversee the deal – a move to avoid a full bankruptcy proceeding.
The two billionaires control Central European energy group EPH, which used to have extensive dealings buying Russian gas. Their 29.99% share in the German-based food retailer Metro prompted Ukraine’s National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption to add Metro to its International Sponsors of War list in March. Metro continues to maintain a presence in Russia, and Ukraine criticised Kretinsky for his close links “to the oil, gas and banking sectors of Russia’s economy”.
EPH complained about Ukraine’s reference to Kretinsky’s activities as “untrue, unfair and insulting statements.” EPH stated it has never made direct purchases of gas from Russia and that EPH’s recent rise in profits has been driven by electricity production, not by Russian gas imports.
EPH has been active in gas transmission through their share and managerial control of Slovak Eustream. Patrik Tkac is a partner at J&T Financial Group, which rose to prominence during the Slovak privatisation era in the 1990s and where Kretinsky worked before founding EPH.
CMI is, through its subsidiary Czech News Centre, one of the two largest media groups in Czechia, publishing four daily newspapers, several magazines, as well as websites and radio stations.
It has been reported by Czech media in February as a possible bidder for the other major media house Mafra, linked to the oligarch and populist opposition leader Andrej Babis. Kretinsky and Tkac’s media are frequently criticised for serving as a public opinion vehicle to defend the business interests of its owners, particularly in energy.