Europe 1 with AFP // Photo credit: MAGALI COHEN / HANS LUCAS / HANS LUCAS VIA AFP 12:25 pm, July 17, 2023

the trio Xavier Niel, Matthieu Pigasse and Moez-Alexandre Zouari threw in the towel Sunday as part of the process of taking over the Casino supermarket chain. Investors feel betrayed by the "fucked" process of recovery. Now, Czech billionaire Daniel Kretinsky has free rein.

Considering themselves betrayed by a "biased" process of taking over Casino, the trio Xavier Niel, Matthieu Pigasse and Moez-Alexandre Zouari threw in the towel Sunday and left the field open to Daniel Kretinsky, ten days before a capital deadline for the brand that is drowning in debt. 3F, the holding company through which the trio intended to take over Casino, denounces a "biased process", believing that Casino "has obviously already chosen its buyer".

In question, an alleged lack of cooperation and transparency on the financial situation of Casino, including "liquidity needs" and the expected results by the end of the year, but also the betrayal attributed to one of the creditors with whom the trio had built its round table. 3F accuses the investment fund Attestor of having contributed to the competing offer "while continuing to participate" in its own meetings.

After this abandonment, only one offer remains, that of the duo of billionaires composed of the Czech Daniel Kretinsky and the French financier Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière. The offer of the latter has been "a little modified" to ensure the support of more creditors of Casino, said Sunday the Czech billionaire to the newspaper Les Echos in an interview published just minutes after the announcement of 3F.

Naouri dismissed

The decision on the buyer should be "taken quickly" as the debt wall approaches, Kretinsky warned. Casino has until July 27 to reach an agreement in principle with its main creditors on its crushing debt, announced at 6.4 billion euros at the end of 2022. Casino's management and creditors, which are major French and European banks, investment funds and institutional players, are due to review the offer on Monday.

The plan now provides for the injection of €1.2 billion in new money, including more than €900 million from the duo, compared to €1.35 billion in the initial proposal. The Czech billionaire has also closed the door to the historic boss of Casino, Jean-Charles Naouri, current owner of the group but who will no longer be at the end of the operation, whatever the outcome.

"If we become majority shareholders, it is clear that the company will not be able to be led by Jean-Charles, despite all my respect for him," he told Les Echos. Francophile, Kretinsky, 48 years old and whose fortune amounts to $ 9.7 billion (about 8.6 billion euros) according to Forbes, began investing in France in 2018. It holds interests in the media (Libération, Marianne...), distribution (Fnac Darty), publishing (Editis, agreement concluded in June) and industry (mainly in energy).

Decline in turnover

The trio Niel-Pigasse-Zouari also regretted in its statement a "financial situation more deteriorated than expected" of Casino, which has 200,000 employees worldwide including 50,000 in France. Casino itself had announced on July 12 that its turnover for the second quarter would be in sharp decline. The two competing offers agreed on the fact that the recovery of activity should involve a reduction in prices on the shelves, a lot of work on the commercial offer and the development of partnerships.

The Kretinsky-Ladreit duo of Lacharrière does not envisage either the sale of hypermarkets or the sale of the online retailer CDiscount, according to his entourage. "It is unimaginable to close the headquarters of Saint-Etienne", its historical cradle, repeated Mr. Kretinsky in his interview with Les Echos. In June, employee representatives had initiated an "economic alert right" to obtain more information on the group's financial situation while being concerned about the sale of 119 Casino stores to Intermarché.

"We are reassured that the trio Niel-Pigasse-Zouari is withdrawing because we did not want a vulture investment fund. Kretinsky's project is attractive on paper, but we remain vigilant about its feasibility," Thomas Meyer, Unsa union delegate from the Casino group, told AFP. Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said on July 11 that the State would ensure "the solidity of the industrial project" and the future of the group's 50,000 employees in France.