The commercial court of Fort-de-France validated Tuesday the extension of the activity of the daily France-Antilles, put into compulsory liquidation on January 30, in order to exceptionally allow the businessman Xavier Niel to make an offer recovery, found an AFP correspondent.
Twenty days after the liquidation of the group and the disappearance of the only daily newspaper in Martinique, Guadeloupe and Guyana, the commercial court of Fort-de-France validated a continuation of the activity until March 10, responding to a request made in emergency Monday by the public prosecutor.
The objective is to be able to allow the founder of Free, Xavier Niel, co-shareholder of Le Monde who has just bought Nice-Matin, to make an offer.
The businessman wrote a "letter of intent" to the prosecutor of the Republic of Martinique, Renaud Gaudeul, justifying according to the prosecutor this "exceptional" procedure of a continuation of activity several weeks after the closing the business.
Xavier Niel expressed, "a few days ago", "his desire to file in the next few days an offer to take over the assets of the France-Antilles group", confirmed to AFP his personal holding company NJJ, explaining this offer by the "proven risk of the disappearance of any independent local press in the Antilles".
France-Antilles had normally been liquidated without further activity on January 30. But the 235 employees have still not received their dismissal letter, which means that they are still employees of the group for now, even if they are not working. The newspaper has ceased publication since February 1.
"It is an issue in public life: the maintenance of the daily press and its many jobs (235) in the territories which justifies the reopening of this file," explained the representative of the prosecution, evoking a "credible" buyer.
"This offer, which will be accompanied by a proposal to take over a significant number of employees and to maintain the paper business, will present a real daily press project with the production of quality information while preserving local editorial resources and by building a sustainable operation, "says the NJJ holding company.
The court decision provides for the suspension of the dismissal procedures, the retention of the administrator and the publication of a call for tenders in a national newspaper. This call for tenders runs until March 2 at 3 p.m. All offers, if any, will then be examined on March 10 at 2:00 p.m. at the Commercial Court.
No France-Antilles on newsstands on Wednesday. "There are a lot of contracts that have been suspended, orders that have been stopped, there is no more paper. So we will be paid with the money that remains in the treasury," said the employee representative. by Martinique Rodolphe Lamy.
According to the administrator, there is enough to pay wages until March 10.
For Mr. Lamy, "it is a ray of hope especially when we know the reputation of Xavier Niel. I imagine that if he positions himself after the deadline, we hope that there is something serious".
There remains a problem that had already arisen during the previous call for tenders: that of the real estate assets of France-Antilles. The group's assets had all been transferred in 2017 to its then majority shareholder, AJR Participations (company of Aude Jacques-Ruettard, granddaughter of press boss Robert Hersant).
For any buyer, it will necessarily move offices and printing (an operation that would cost an average of one million euros) or pay rent to AJR to occupy the old premises. This is one of the main reasons why candidates withdrew their offers during the first call.
Created in March 1964, France-Antilles, a former subsidiary of the Hersant group, had been in receivership since June 25, 2019. AJR Participations had notably made a takeover offer, planning to keep only 125 positions out of the 235, but had not failed to finalize its financing plan.
© 2020 AFP