SO was it a genuine offer? It was derisory, sniffed the Harrods spokesman, insisting that the famous Knightsbridge store would not go “at any price.”
Philip Green, dubbed Britain’s “fastest millionaire” who saw his wealth rise by £1bil (RM6.2bil) last year, was identified as the interested buyer by The Guardian, which splashed the story on its front page.
Green has denied making the offer last year when he met Harrods owner Mohamed al-Fayed, who, the story goes, had demanded £2bil (RM12.4bil) for the store he had owned for the past 18 years.
Friends of Green told Financial Times they suspect al-Fayed was using the retail entrepreneur as a stalking horse to flush out other potential buyers for the store as well as his indebted Fulham Football Club.
Apparently a middleman has been putting out feelers to a select few, one of whom told the FT the advance was rejected, “but we are not totally ruling out having a look.”
Will al-Fayed sell Harrods now that he has moved to Geneva (to escape the clutches of the Inland Revenue, said The Guardian) after losing a legal battle to retain special tax status of a flat £240,000 (RM1.5bil) a year in tax?
“For Mr Fayed, selling Harrods would mark a final substantive withdrawal from Britain after years of supposed persecution by the British establishment, dating back to the bitter battle for control of the store in 1985,” said The Guardian.
“Since his son Dodi died in the Paris car crash with Princess Diana in 1997 he has repeatedly clashed with the royal family over claims that the secret service was involved in their deaths. Harrods was subsequently stripped of its royal warrant.”
Like other luxury stores, Harrods has not been spared by the slowdown: its profits in the year to March 2000 (its most recent figures available) fell by a fifth to £23mil (RM124.6mil).
Analysts have put the value of the store at £500mil (RM3.1bil), more than half of which is made up by its freehold property. The store was mortgaged for £350mil (RM2.17bil), in 2001.
Word has it that al-Fayed will be at this weekend’s Monte Carlo Grand Prix, which according to FT, could double up as the ultimate shopping destination for Harrods, what with so many rich trophy-hunters around.