Lewis fund poised for buying spree in leisure sector

Enic, the investment trust backed by Joe Lewis, believed to be Britain's richest man, is about to embark on an acquisition spree after securing pounds 51m from a host of investors. Andrew Yates reports that the group has ambitions to become a large player.
Enic plans a series of large acquisitions in the sports, leisure and media sectors throughout Europe. It raised another pounds 20m from institutions in April and is thought to be prepared to spend more than pounds 100m.

It is in talks with AEK Athens, one of Greece's leading football clubs, about a takeover. And it is thought to be in talks with other big European football clubs and has an option to take a large stake in Rangers, Scotland's leading club, and Vincenza of Italy.

However, the group is also looking at a range of other non-football acquisitions. It is believed to be looking at other sporting areas and in particular the acquisition of intellectual property rights and brands which it hopes to exploit on a large scale.

Daniel Levy, the 35-year-old Cambridge graduate hand-picked by Bahamas- based entrepreneur and close friend Mr Lewis to run Enic, is sitting on a paper profit of more than pounds 18m following the company's pounds 51m fund-raising exercise.

Mr Levy's trust, Walburg Holdings, is now entitled to 7.5 million convertible shares which can be swapped for ordinary shares at a price of 32.7p compared to yesterday's closing price of 275p.

A spokesman for Enic said Mr Levy was granted the convertible shares when the share price was 25p. Mr Levy also owns ordinary shares in Enic worth more than pounds 417,000.

Enic is likely to announce a string of deals within the next few months. Mr Lewis owns 49 per cent of Enic, although his shareholding will be diluted to just under 36 per cent after the refinancing. Enic insists that Mr Lewis has a passive role but he is understood to be watching its progress closely.

Enic plans to convert from an investment trust to a normal plc once it has pulled off a large acquisition. This will allow it to take up its option to pay pounds 40m for a 25 per cent stake in Rangers. It also plans to pay pounds 2.5m to raise its stake in Vincenza to 62 per cent from just under 30 per cent.

Compaigne Financiere Richemont, the French group which has an empire that spans famous brands such as Dunhill, Rothmans and Cartier, has bought pounds 3.1m of Enic's shares, taking its stake in the group to 5.4 per cent.

The stake raises the prospect that Richemont could form an alliance with Enic to exploit acquisition opportunities. Indeed, Richard Hersov, who joined the group last month as director to help oversee its expansion in Europe, has close links with Richemont.

He was managing director of Telepui, Italy's leading pay television company, in which Richemont used to have a large stake. Richemont now owns a 15 per cent stake in Canal Plus, the French media giant which in turn owns a large stake in Telepui.

The link with Canal Plus could help further Enic's ambitions. Mr Hersov stands to make millions from a share options package if he can secure successful acquisitions.