French businessman Xavier Niel is the beneficial owner of a slew of companies in Luxembourg but does not appear in the register (Photo: Shutterstock)
French telecoms tycoon Xavier Niel and Czech energy billionaire Daniel Kretinsky have business undertakings in Luxembourg. They are also shareholders of Le Monde, one of the newspapers involved in the OpenLux investigation.
Le Monde’s journalists in a single sentence address the situation of their shareholders. A confidentiality clause in the register “notably benefitted Russian oligarch Sergei Pugatchev and Xavier Niel, individual shareholder of Le Monde group,” they write, citing a source connected to the founder of the Free telecoms group as saying they had wanted to protect Niel’s identity for security reasons.
Niel is the beneficial owner of five companies in Luxembourg--Matterhorn Telecom, Matterhorn Telecom Holding, OCH AT Holding, OCH Finance and Eircom Finco. The firms are among the businesses that have helped him amass a fortune estimated at $8.4bn as of February 2021
But Niel does not appear in beneficial owners register records for Matterhorn Mobile. Founded in 2012, the company acquired Orange Suisse from France Télécom via its subsidiary Apax Partners for 2bn Swiss francs. Three years later, Niel found himself owner of Orange Suisse through his personal holding company NJJ Capital, for 2.8bn Swiss francs.
Between 2016 and 2021, the holding was led by director Murielle Colart, formerly of Orange Suisse. She stepped down in January to found her own consultancy, MC2 Advisory, after previously working for PwC Luxembourg’s tax department (2002-2005).
Matterhorn Mobile has been in voluntary liquidation since 2015, which didn’t stop the company from paying out a dividend worth 2bn Swiss francs in 2019. Its subsidiaries Matterhorn Telecom Holding and Matterhorn Telecom are still listed in the business register.
Niel’s name is also missing from listings for Och AT Holding, Och Finance and Eircom Finco.
According to our count, Xavier Niel is a beneficial owner of more than 100 companies in 15 countries, and shareholder in 98 other businesses. Three years ago, the businessman began a process of streamlining his business, which counted 25 holdings.
Daniel Kretinsky on the other hand is visible in the register. The Czech billionaire owns 49% of Le Nouveau Monde, one of four owners of the Monde Libre media group alongside Niel’s NJJ Presse, Berlys Media and Prisca.
He is the 565th wealthiest man in the world, according to Forbes, with a fortune of $3.4bn, but has not been mentioned in the OpenLux reporting by Le Monde so far.
In Luxembourg, he owns EP Equity Investment and EP Equity Investment 2, through which he manages the majority of his activities either directly or indirectly via three other entities registered in Luxembourg: Majorelle Investments, Ruby Equity Investment and Vesa Equity Investment.
Through the first of these three firms, he is associated with Gabriel Naouri, son of casino baron Jean-Charles Naouri. The two of them bought shares in furniture store Maisons du Monde, with Kretinsky developing an appetite for retail in addition to energy and media.
The second firm manages his shares in Germany’s ProSieben television network. He joined the group as a shareholder in 2019 for €120m but has doubled his 4.1% share since the start of the pandemic last March. Together with business partner Patrick Tkac, he owns more than 10% of the media outlet and has voiced plans to buy more.
Finally, through the third company he pursues French retailer Casino, in which his stake grew to more than 10% last November, in addition to shares in Macy’s, Foot Locker, Sainsbury’s, Metro and Mall Group.
Le Monde journalists in 2019 issued a statement demanding editorial independence from their shareholders. In 2018, the paper had published a piece about Kretinsky’s dealings after he appeared in the Panama Papers. It later gave the businessman the right to reply.
“In this article, you claim that I benefit from certain tax advantages due to the domiciliation in Luxembourg of the company holding my shares of the EPH group. I would like to point out that such an interpretation is not correct and that holding my share in EPH via Luxembourg entities does not save me any taxes,” Kretinsky wrote, adding that his global dividend earnings are taxed in the Czech Republic, according to Czech tax law.
This article was first published in French on Paperjam.lu and has been translated and edited for Delano.