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Russian Oligarch Sets Sights On 'Le Monde'

Bound for Russian hands?
Bound for Russian hands?
MOSCOW -- A spokesman for Russian business tycoon Gleb Fetisov's FFF-Holding company says Fetisov is serious in his aim to buy the French newspaper "Le Monde," RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.

Oleg Teterin told RFE/RL that FFF-Holding received "unmistakable" confirmation from "Le Monde" officials about the firm's bid to purchase the paper.

"They are still considering offers and haven't yet reached a decision," he said.

Teterin refuted a report by a "Le Monde" spokeswoman on June 23, reported by Bloomberg, that the French paper did not receive a formal offer from Fetisov and would not consider an offer from him if it received one.

Fetisov, one of the founding owners of My Bank and a stockholder in the Russian telecommunication giants Megafon and VimpelCom, ranks number 42 on the "Forbes" list of Russia's richest businessmen. Fetisov also served in the Federation Council, Russia's upper house of parliament, from 2001-09.

Gilles Van Kote, president of "Le Monde's" Society of Editors, told RFE/RL that he was "somewhat startled" by Fetisov's interest in the paper.

"We didn't have any contact with Mr. Fetisov until June 21 when we received a one-page letter...of his intention to buy the paper," he said. "Letters we received from others were 20-25 pages long."

"Le Monde" is considered one of the most influential French papers but has, like other print publications, lost revenue in recent years as advertising has moved to online media and circulations have declined.

Earlier this month, the newspaper advertised that it was seeking an investment of 100 million euros ($123 million).

Fetisov wrote about his offer for "Le Monde" on his website.

"This is a unique chance to acquire a media 'antique,' which will hopefully appreciate in the future," Fetisov wrote. "My ideas for the paper are how to restructure the debt and make more money on each issue, without interfering in journalistic matters."

Van Kote said that while the money offered by each perspective buyer is important, journalists at "Le Monde" want the new owner to retain the publication's editorial system. "Le Monde" is one of the few papers in the world where the journalists are stakeholders in the paper and help elect senior executives.

Van Kote said he wants to know whether Fetisov has any interest in French politics, because after the acquisition of the French daily "France Soir" by Aleksandr Pugachev -- son of Russian billionaire Sergei Pugachev. Competitors claimed Pugachev bought the paper with hopes of influencing the 2012 French presidential election.

Teterin explained in a letter to RFE/RL that Fetisov's interest stems from his great respect for "Le Monde" as well as a financial interest in the paper. Teterin added that he disagrees with Van Kote on the length of Fetisov's letter: "We sent 'Le Monde' a three-page proposal."

In addition to Fetisov's, "Le Monde" has received offers from French banker Matthieu Pigasse, the founder of the French telecommunications company Iliad Xavier Niel, and Pierre Berge, the co-founder of fashion house Yves Saint Laurent.

"Le Monde's" board of directors is due to announce its decision on a new owner by June 28.