Despite the validation, during a board of directors in early May, of the takeover offer submitted by CMA CGM, a heavyweight in global maritime transport based in Marseille, the future of one of the flagship press groups in the South of France publishing La Provence and Corse Matin, and its 850 employees, still seems uncertain.

At the end of a hearing which is held behind closed doors on Tuesday, the judge-commissioner must authorize or not the sale of La Provence to the shipowner, at the origin of the only takeover offer retained, because the best bid, of the 89% of La Provence held by the Bernard Tapie Group (GBT), in compulsory liquidation since 2020.

But the appeals filed by its competitor NJJ, holding company of the founder of Free Telecom Xavier Niel, which owns 11% of La Provence and whose takeover offer was rejected by the liquidators, could prolong a saga which has been going on for months.

The CMA CGM project was approved by the board of directors of La Provence, despite the votes against by NJJ which, in its capacity as a minority shareholder, could oppose the entry into the capital of the shipowner. But the votes of NJJ were invalidated by the chairman of the board of directors and CEO of La Provence, Jean-Christophe Serfati, who considered that the holding company showed an obvious conflict of interest.

Denouncing a “passage in force”, NJJ launched an interim procedure to request the suspension of the decision of the board of directors, an appeal which must be tried on Thursday. The examination on the merits to request the nullity of this decision will take place on June 29.

“It would still be very surprising if the judge-commissioner, in the state of the summary procedure, rules on the sale” of La Provence, estimated with AFP Me Christian Lestournelle, Marseilles lawyer for NJJ, while suggesting that if the sale was nevertheless pronounced, his client would launch a new appeal.

In view of the critical financial situation of the group, its CEO, Jean-Christophe Serfati, and Frédéric Avazeri, legal representative in charge of supervising the sale of the company, nevertheless consider the sale of the group more urgent than ever, as they have exposed to employees during an extraordinary social and economic committee on Thursday.

– “Worst of solutions” –

“If the sale is not finalized, the procedures will take us until the end of the year, or even the beginning of next year, and I will not have the necessary cash to hold out,” Serfati told AFP. AFP, confirming that he would then be obliged to seek the placement of the group in safeguard proceedings, then in receivership, “the worst solution”.

The majority elected and union representatives among the employees call for this transfer to CMA CGM to take place, judging that “only the investments and the implementation of the recovery project” can make it possible to avoid the safeguard procedure if they intervene. rapidly.

“We don’t want the sale to be blocked because it would be the death of the newspaper”, explained to AFP Sophie Manelli, elected from the National Union of Journalists (SNJ) of La Provence, which is part of the inter-union La Provence/Corsica Morning.

For its part, CMA CGM indicated in a press release that it was “ready to implement its recovery project as soon as the sale of the securities is pronounced”.

Other minority unions, which have been asking for months that the two takeover offers be submitted to them, however, consider that the financial picture of La Provence has been knowingly blackened “in order to hasten the sale”.

We “are wondering about the interest of a quick sale, which could be called into question in a few months” given the appeals filed by NJJ, write in a joint press release the CFDT, the CFE-CGC, Filpac CGT and FO Livre , specifying that NJJ, also owner of Nice-Matin, has undertaken to support the group financially if necessary.

But for Me Avazeri, if the sale to CMA CGM is pronounced, “it does not matter behind that there are appeals, the company will have been taken over, restructured, refinanced”.