PARIS Italian businessman Maurizio Borletti has joined up with Qatari investors to bid for control of Printemps, the upmarket French department store and tourist hotspot.
Exclusive talks center on the 70 percent stake in Printemps owned by Deustche Bank's (DBKGn.DE) real estate arm RREEF, which it has been looking to sell for months, Borletti said on Wednesday.
A source close to the matter had said that both Borletti Group and RREEF had nearly reached a deal with Qatar which valued Printemps at around 2 billion euros ($2.7 billion).
Printemps, which owns 16 stores and employs 4,000, saw turnover rise 13 percent to 1.45 billion euros in its 2011/12 year.
While a spokeswoman for Borletti said the group planned to formally make the offer on behalf of the Qataris, it was not clear how RREEF's stake in Printemps would be split between the Qataris and Borletti. "Things have not been completely defined yet," the spokeswoman said, declining to reveal the identity of the Qatari investors involved.
The news ends months of speculation over the future ownership of Printemps because RREEF was keen to sell its stake, while Borletti, who spearheaded Printemps's shift upmarket, had told Reuters in January he wanted to hold on to the business.
Qatar, the world's wealthiest country per capita, has been steadily building its presence in high-end retailing and fashion.
It acquired via one of its many investment funds London's department store Harrod's in 2010 for an estimated 1.5 billion pounds in 2010.
Last year, the Qatari royal family acquired Italian fashion brand Valentino for 700 million euros at the top end of valuation multiples for the industry.
Borletti, who owns Italian department store La Rinascente, bought Printemps together with RREEF from French retail and luxury group PPR (PRTP.PA) for 1.1 billion euros in 2006.
Since then, they have spent around 350 million euros on renovations and moving Printemps more upscale with a wider offering of luxury products.
Rival Galeries Lafayette, which tried to buy Printemps in 2006 but lost out to Borletti and RREEF, had shown interest in the department store and even mandated a bank to prepare a bid in recent months.
"Our group had been ready to build a serious project. We will follow the progress of this story very closely," a Galeries Lafayette spokeswoman said.
French weekly Challenges reported in December that Galeries Lafayette was ready to pay nearly 1.6 billion euros for Printemps, advised by HSBC, according to sources close to the matter. Galeries Lafayette declined to comment on Wednesday.
Qatar, which owns a number of buildings on Paris jewellery Mecca Place Vendome, has been developing closer ties with France, having acquired football club Paris St German as well as minority stakes in companies such as in waste and water management group Veolia Environnement (VIE.PA).
Qatar has also been building a bigger presence in the luxury goods industry. Qatar's sovereign wealth fund owns 8.7 percent of US jeweller Tiffany & Co (TIF.N) and a stake of over of 1 percent in LVMH (LVMH.PA), the world's biggest luxury group, as well as a small stake in German sports car maker Porsche.
(Additional reporting by Matthieu Protard, Astrid Wendlandt, and Pascale Denis; Editing by James Regan and Louise Heavens)