India’s richest man is reportedly eyeing up ailing department store chain Debenhams.
According to a Sky News report, Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Retail empire – a subsidiary of his Reliance Industries business – is among a small number of parties in talks with advisers to the struggling department store chain.
However, there is no guarantee that Mr Ambani’s company, which snapped up UK toy retailer Hamleys for an undisclosed sum in 2019, will make a formal bid for Debenhams.
Debenhams declined to comment when contacted by BusinessLive and Reliance has yet to respond.
Sources told Sky that if Reliance does take part in a sale process, it could involve bidding for just part of the chain’s assets.
Mr Ambani’s company has raised billions of dollars this year from stake sales in Reliance Retail, including a $750million (£578milliom) one to global investment business KKR.
It has been a difficult year for Debenhams, which collapsed for the second time in 12 months in April and appointed advisory firm FRP as administrators.
In July, it was reported the retailer had appointed investment bank Lazard to explore options for its future – including a search for a new owner.
The ailing chain has closed a number of its flagship stores in recent months, including the Bullring in Birmingham, The Oracle in Reading, Centrale in Croydon, Highcross in Leicester and Silverburn in Glasgow.
It also failed to come to a rent agreement with landlords Intu, meaning three stores at Intu centres – at Gateshead Metrocentre, Watford and Milton Keynes – did not reopen after June 15, when the government allowed non-essential retailers to start operating again.
In August, Debenhams said a local tribunal about an increase in business rates at its Swansea store could define the future of the retail brand’s entire network.
The chain said its rates bill in Swansea was due to rise by 12 per cent to £1.1million – and it lodged an appeal against the increase at the local Valuation Tribunal for Wales.
The brand warned that unless more realistic assessments were agreed, it was likely to have to close more stores, resulting in thousands more workers losing their jobs.
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But Debenhams was struggling even before the coronavirus pandemic, dealing with debts of £600million.
Billionaire Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley, who owns rival House of Fraser, is also reportedly interested in buying up the struggling chain.
But the department store has already rejected previous attempts by the Frasers group owner to buy up the business.