Russian tycoon says is ‘prime victim’ of Spanish supermarket chain’s woes

A man walks past a Dia supermarket in Madrid on February 5, 2019. — AFP pic
A man walks past a Dia supermarket in Madrid on February 5, 2019. — AFP pic

MADRID, Oct 28 — Russian tycoon Mikhail Fridman, who is under investigation in Spain for allegedly artificially depressing the share price of supermarket chain Dia, said today he was “the prime victim” of the company’s financial troubles.

Spain’s National Court said last week it had opened a probe into claims the Kremlin-friendly oligarch acted in a “coordinated and concerted way” to lower Dia’s share price and then buy the Spanish firm, which could lead him to be charged with the crime of market manipulation.

In May, Fridman’s Luxembourg-based investment company LetterOne secured majority control of the struggling supermarket chain via a hostile takeover following a bitter dispute with its previous management as the firm’s share price slumped.

“I am the prime victim of the fall in the share price (of Dia), because we have invested 1.6 billion euros in this company,” Fridman said in an interview published Monday in Spanish business daily Cinco Dias.

When LetterOne first bought into Dia in 2017 the company’s shares were worth 4.50 euros. When LetterOne launched its takeover bid earlier this year it offered 0.67 euros per Dia share.

“The (shareholders) lost 90 per cent of what they had. LetterOne as well... We lost more than anyone,” Fridman added.

When LetterOne first bought into Dia in 2017, it discovered that the company’s accounts “were false. Irregularities were discovered,” he said.

Fridman, who also owns Russian supermarket chain X5 Retail, said he saw in Dia a “competitive opportunity” and still considers it to be an “appropriate investment” in the long term.

Fridman, one of Russia’s richest men, appeared in a Madrid court last week as part of a separate case in which judges are investigating allegations he acted to bring down the value of another Spanish takeover target, digital entertainment firm Zed Worldwide. 

He denied all charges in that case in a statement released after he was questioned in court.

“I have nothing to do with this affair... I don’t know this company,” he told Cinco Dias in a reference to Zed Worldwide.

Through LetterOne, Fridman also controls interests in telecoms, banking, oil and healthcare. He is also one of the founders of Alfa Bank, Russia’s largest privately-held lender. — AFP

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