Russian tycoon may make £35m cut-price bid for Waterstone’s

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A RUSSIAN oligarch with political ties to the Kremlin is close to making a cut-price bid for HMV Group’s book chain Waterstone’s, it was claimed yesterday.

Alexander Mamut, a friend of Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich, is expected to table an offer of £35m for Waterstone’s, half of what HMV hoped for, later this week, according to a Sunday newspaper.

HMV Group, which owns 731 HMV, Waterstone’s and Fopp stores, is understood to be considering offloading the book chain under plans to secure the future of the business.

The embattled group, which has issued three profit warnings so far this year, said lenders have agreed to put back financial tests from the end of April to the beginning of July.

It was previously reported HMV needs to raise £75m in return for a relaxation of its lending covenants.

HMV Group, which is closing 60 stores over the next 12 months and shedding jobs, aims to cut costs by another £10m a year.

HMV has faced increasing competition from online retailers and supermarkets in its core CD and DVD markets in recent years.

Potential buyers for Waterstone’s are rumoured to include founder Tim Waterstone and retail restructuring specialist Hilco, which has owned Allied Carpets, Habitat and MK One.

Mr Mamut, 51, made his fortune in the financial sector. He is understood to have been a large shareholder in Russia’s largest insurance company, Ingosstrakh, and once held a large stake in Moscow-based investment bank Troika Dialog.

Outside Russia, he has concentrated on media investments including California-based social networking site Live Journal. He is well connected politically and is said to have worked as an advisor to the former Russian government of Boris Yeltsin.