Property tycoon enters race to rescue Woolies

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The Independent Online

Ardeshir Naghshineh, whose 10 per cent equity stake in Woolworths was wiped out when the company fell into administration last week, is one of several potential bidders lining up to buy the 800-shop retailer.

Deloitte, the accountancy firm that is conducting Woolies' administration, said that it had received "more than a dozen inquiries", with interest coming from raft of rival retailers, private equity firms and individuals.

Mr Naghshineh, a property entrepreneur who owns London's Centrepoint building, is this weekend thought to be putting together a deal team and a financing package. His plan to resurrect the fortunes of Woolies includes the disposal of key leases to rival retailers that would yield around £150m and the sale of the retailer's stake in 2Entertainment, a DVD publisher, to the BBC.

Alongside Mr Naghshineh, John Moulton, the outspoken founder of Alchemy Partners who has expressed an interest in the struggling retailer in the past, is also thought to have registered his interest.

Supermarkets including Tesco, Asda and Iceland are believed to have tabled an interest in picking off prime sites, while discount retailers such as Netto, Aldi, Lidl and Primark are also said to be keen on acquiring some leases, should the group be carved up. The likes of HMV, Boots and WH Smith are also thought to have expressed an interest.

However, Malcolm Walker, the founder of the Iceland group who tabled a £50m bid for Woolworths in the summer, has already ruled himself out of the bidding.

All interested parties have signed non-disclosure agreements after being granted access to Woolworths' books. Several of the potential buyers had face to face meetings and presentations with the Woolworths management, led by chief executive Steve Johnson, on Friday.

Neville Kahn, partner at Deloitte who is leading a 100-plus team working on the administration and potential sale of Woolworths, said: "We remain very confident that we can sell the business to someone who will keep it as a going concern. We have commitments to keep Woolworths trading until after Christmas, by which time we should have a buyer."

Last Friday the fallout of Woolworths' collapse deepened when Metrodome, an AIM-listed film distributor, said it was facing losses of £320,000 because of the situation. Shares in the company, which posted a half-year profit of just £55,000 earlier this year, fell by a third last Friday.

Meanwhile, snack group Zetar, which is also AIM-listed, said it expects to lose £1m as a result of the failure of Woolies, its fifth biggest customer. The Government is understood to have offered support to keep Woolies going until it is sold.