Xavier Niel strengthens his position in Le Monde by buying the shares of Czech Kretinsky

French businessman Xavier Niel, July 6, 2023 in Paris (AFP/Archives/JOEL SAGET)

Billionaire Xavier Niel is strengthening his position in the capital of the Le Monde group by purchasing, with the consent of employees, the share held by Czech businessman Daniel Kretinsky, who will concentrate on other media.

At the end of this operation, worth almost 50 million euros, according to the Financial Times, the Le Monde group (the newspaper Le Monde, Télérama, Courrier International, etc.) will be mainly owned by the telecoms billionaire, via the Press Independence Fund which it created in 2021 and which makes its capital statutorily non-transferable, and through the “independence pole”, which notably brings together the society of editors and the society of readers of Le Monde.

The operation was approved by this independence center, as provided for in the group’s statutes intended to separate capital and editorial control.

The green light was even given “unanimously”: the editorial staff of Le Monde are all the more satisfied since “trust had never been established” with Mr. Kretinsky, 48, explained to AFP a source close to the independence pole.

The Czech businessman entered the capital in 2018 without seeking approval, by purchasing shares from another businessman, Matthieu Pigasse.

The headquarters of the Le Monde group, February 13, 2023 in Paris

The headquarters of the Le Monde group, February 13, 2023 in Paris (AFP/Archives/JOEL SAGET)

This episode followed the stormy recapitalization of the group in 2010 by a trio formed by Xavier Niel, Matthieu Pigasse and Pierre Bergé.

Ultimately, Xavier Niel, 56 years old, should “logically” recover the remaining shares of Pierre Bergé (over which a dispute is underway with his heir), those of Matthieu Pigasse, who plans to continue to withdraw, as well as the part of the Spanish media group Prisa, according to this source.

– “Help the media” –

In addition to the Le Monde group, Xavier Niel (worth $6.3 billion, or 5.9 billion euros) is a shareholder in Nice-Matin, France-Antilles and Paris-Turf. He financed the creation of the online investigative economic media “L’Informé”.

The businessman thus strengthens his place in a French media landscape marked in recent years by numerous merger operations.

Their succession has raised concerns about the independence of the press, one of the subjects that should be addressed by the General Conference on Information, which will be launched at the beginning of October.

Czech businessman Daniel Kretinsk, January 22, 2020 in Paris

Czech businessman Daniel Kretinsk, January 22, 2020 in Paris (AFP/Archives/JOEL SAGET)

For his part, Daniel Kretinsky has no intention of withdrawing from the French media game, where he has increased his investments.

His holding company specified that he “will continue to support French titles and guarantee their independence as a shareholder” for example at Elle, Marianne or the Franc-Tireur magazine, “or as a lender” for the daily Libération, which he bailed out to the tune of 15 million euros.

“At a time of major capital changes in the French press, we wish to provide the necessary resources to the titles which need them and which we support in their development projects, while absolutely and fully respecting their editorial freedom,” he said. -she emphasized.

“Daniel Kretinsky’s vocation is to help the media who need it and who want it,” explained one of his close friends to AFP, emphasizing that the editorial staff of Libération, unlike that of Le Monde, does not had “no hostility” towards him.

Daniel Kretinsky, 48 years old and whose fortune amounts to 9.2 billion dollars (around 8.6 billion euros) according to Forbes, began investing in France in 2018. In addition to the media, he holds stakes in distribution (Fnac Darty) and industry (mainly in energy).

Co-shareholders until now of the Le Monde group, Niel and Kretinsky are separating after opposing themselves as candidates for the rescue of the distributor Casino, in great difficulty.

The Czech finally won this summer, with allies. “The Casino file is not the cause” of his departure from Le Monde, “even if it didn’t help,” his entourage confided to AFP, assuring that “relations are courteous.”

© 2023 AFP

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