Le Monde takeover battle in final stretch

21st June 2010, Comments 0 comments

France's troubled Le Monde newspaper on Monday announced two firm takeover offers, one including France Telecom subsidiary Orange, the second from a consortium led by Pierre Berge, ex-partner of late fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent.

The paper's main shareholders, essentially its staff, are expected to name their favourite Friday, with Le Monde's supervisory board due to make a final announcement June 28.

In a statement Monday, Le Monde said it had received an offer for a controlling stake in the group from Orange, allied with the weekly Nouvel Observateur group and Spain's Prisa publishers, which own El Pais newspaper.

The second offer is from a trio of investors led by Berge and including Lazard's top banker Matthieu Pigasse and Internet tycoon Xavier Niel.

The supervisory board will vote next Monday "after the staff groups express their preference at a general assembly held Thursday June 24 and Friday June 25," a statement said.

France's flagship daily is being crushed by a mountain of debt and has put out a call to investors capable of injecting between 80 and 120 million euros (100 to 150 million dollars) to come to its aid.

The search for fresh capital turned political this month when President Nicolas Sarkozy stepped in and met with the publisher of the cash-strapped daily, Eric Fottorino.

The president told Fottorino that he opposed the Berge-Pigasse-Niel bid because of their ties to prominent left-wingers, drawing accusations from the opposition Socialist Party that Sarkozy was threatening press freedom.

Both Niel and Pigasse are known to be close to IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who is weighing a possible run for the French presidency in 2012.

France Telecom CEO Stephane Richard said he had not been "asked" to step in with a rival offer for Le Monde but rather had been persuaded to make a move after talking to Mexican magnate Carlos Slim, who backs The New York Times and media baron Rupert Murdoch.

France Telecom, which is 26 percent owned by the French state, is ready to put down between 50 and 60 million euros as part of the overall offer to take over Le Monde, said Richard.

Founded in 1944 at the end of the German occupation of Paris, Le Monde has a circulation of about 290,000.

© 2010 AFP

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