Maverick Egyptian millionaireswoops on French daily

18th October 2004, Comments 0 comments

CAIRO, Oct 18 (AFP) - Rami Lakah, who bought the troubled French tabloid France Soir on Tuesday, is a young Egyptian millionaire and former MP who left Egypt in 2001 with huge debts and a trail of controversy in his wake.

CAIRO, Oct 18 (AFP) - Rami Lakah, who bought the troubled French tabloid France Soir on Tuesday, is a young Egyptian millionaire and former MP who left Egypt in 2001 with huge debts and a trail of controversy in his wake.

The 41-year-old businessman - whose portly figure and protruding jowl are unmistakable - inherited a colossal fortune from his prominent family in Egypt's Roman Catholic minority.

He married a Frenchwoman and holds both nationalities.

But his dual citizenship was what prompted his political demise, when he branched out of his industrial activities in November 2000 to enter Egypt's political quagmire.

The ambitious businessman pulled off a surprise win in a Cairo constituency which had for years been under the firm control of Abdel Ahad Gamal Eddin, a former minister running for the ruling party.

Lakah's disgruntled rival launched legal proceedings and, in an unprecedented move, parliament passed a ruling banning its members from holding two passports.

The unconventional go-it-alone businessman was stripped of his seat, although other dual nationals held onto theirs and have not faced legal action.

The Lakah Group first cashed in on its medical supplies business before spreading its wings to the energy, tourism and energy sectors on the back of Egypt's economic boom in the late 1990s.

But when the growth bubble popped, Lakah's diversification proved costly and he ran up debts which soared to USD 440 million in early 2001. The share value crashed 99 percent, almost sinking Egypt's stock exchange in the process.

Lakah then moved to France, although he vigorously denied he was fleeing his financial woes and claimed he himself was owed huge amounts by the government in unpaid contracts.

His first venture into Paris's competitive media world came when he founded the Lafayette Presse group, which plans to publish a French-language edition of the US magazine Newsweek.

In January 2004, he bought the charter airline Euralair, which went bankrupt after accusations that it offered free trips to several leading public figures, including French President Jacques Chirac and his wife.

In another bold move, Lakah has now bought a newspaper which was once the pride of France's popular press but has been going through dire financial problems for years.

France Soir is to be re-launched together with an English-language edition aimed at expatriates and businessmen after its purchase by Lakah, staff in Paris said Monday.

The paper has been making a loss of some USD 600,000 dollars a month.

With only 99 employees, including around 60 journalists, its staff has been streamlined to a bare minimum, and its circulation has dwindled to a paltry 67,500 copies a day.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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