Ashley ‘attempted to derail Chinese takeover of House of Fraser’

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SPORTS DIRECT last night declined to comment on reports that tycoon Mike Ashley tried to muscle in at the last minute on the Chinese takeover of House of Fraser by snapping up an 11 per cent stake in the department store group.

The Newcastle United owner bought the shares from entrepreneur Sir Tom Hunter a week ago, according to The Sunday Times, before trying to derail the sale of the business to Nanjing-based conglomerate Sanpower by buying out other investors.

Mr Ashley’s attempted coup did not succeed but means that Sanpower, which has agreed terms on a deal valuing the chain at more than £450m, is denied full ownership and is instead taking 89 per cent of the business.

The businessman is understood to have been stalking the 165-year-old department store for 18 months and wanted to use it to sell Sports Direct’s fashion brands.

But it was believed that investors had doubts about accepting a “low ball” offer from Mr Ashley and turned their noses up at the idea of his involvement as it aimed to focus on becoming an upmarket, premium department store.

His purchase of the 11 per cent stake from Sir Tom – with whom he has done retail deals in the past – appears not to have deterred Sanpower, with an announcement on the House of Fraser deal apparently imminent.

Pre-emption rights can mean existing shareholders have to be offered right of refusal ahead of an outside investor.