How Qatar bagged Printemps while taking French law for window-dressing

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The Printemps department store chain, one of France’s oldest and most famous, was last week bought by a Qatari investment fund for a reported 1.75 billion euros after months of secret negotiations with the group’s principal shareholders and amid bitter opposition by unions representing its staff of 3,000. France’s competition regulator gave the green light despite a preliminary investigation opened in June by the Paris public prosecutor’s office into allegations that the transaction process involved fraud, money laundering and tax evasion. In this opinion article, Mediapart economy and finance specialist Martine Orange argues that the deal illustrates the recurrent impotence of  French law, and the unwillingness of government, to effectively rein in the excesses of rich and powerful wheeler-dealers.

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The announcement was made by Paolo De Cesare, chairman and CEO of the Printemps department store chain, in a brief statement to senior management on July 31st. Revealing that Divine Investments, a Qatari holding company based in Luxembourg, had bought 70% of the RREEF property investment fund managed by Deutsche Bank, De Cesare said: “The arrival of a new shareholder, who prioritises long-term property investment, is an opportunity for Printemps, and will allow us to place ourselves as one of the most attractive large [department] stores in the world. I count on you to create together a new chapter in the history of Printemps.”