Toon boss Mike Ashley tried to muscle in at the last minute on the Chinese takeover of House of Fraser by snapping up an 11% stake in the department store, it has been revealed.
Mr Ashley, who owns Sports Direct, bought the shares from entrepreneur Sir Tom Hunter a week ago, according to reports, before trying to derail the sale of the business to Nanjing-based conglomerate Sanpower by buying out other investors.
However his 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% of the business.
The businessman is understood to have been stalking the 165-year-old department store for 18 months and reports last week of the Chinese firm closing in on a deal were said to have infuriated him.
He is said to have long held ambitions to buy House of Fraser and 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% 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.
There were also believed to be question marks over Mr Ashley’s move as pre-emption rights can mean existing shareholders have to be offered right of refusal ahead of an outside investor.
It is the businessman’s latest dramatic foray into the world of household name retailers, after taking an option to buy a 6.6% option in struggling Debenhams in January.
Days ago, the Sports Direct founder suffered a setback when the FTSE 100 group scrapped plans to pay him a shares windfall potentially worth more than £70m after investors failed to back the award.
The department store, which generates sales of £1.2bn a year and employs 7,300 people and 12,000 concession staff at 61 stores. House of Fraser and Sports Direct declined to comment.