October 22, 2019 / 3:55 PM / a month ago

Spanish court to probe Russian tycoon's bid for supermarket chain - document

MADRID, Oct 22 (Reuters) - Spain's High Court will investigate whether Russian tycoon Mikhail Fridman deliberately acted to depress the share price of struggling supermarket chain DIA in his bid to take control of the group, a court document seen by Reuters showed.

Fridman's LetterOne fund snatched DIA from the brink of insolvency earlier this year after the retailer's failure to defend its customer base from rising competition lost it 90% of its market value in 2018.

In the document, Spain's Supreme Court gave the High Court a mandate to investigate anonymous accusations which it said indicate Fridman may have acted to manipulate prices, engaged in insider trading and damaged the interests of minority shareholders.

Two representatives for Fridman, one in Madrid and one in London, did not respond to several requests for comment by phone and text message.

"According to the accusation, LetterOne Investment Holdings (directed by Fridman), shareholder in DIA, maintained a heightened financial tension to lower the share price before buying the company," said the court document, dated Sept. 18.

The document cites a police report alleging that Fridman acted in a coordinated and concerted way through a network of corporations to create short-term illiquidity in the company and lower the share price before launching his takeover.

As part of the bid, which raised its stake to 70%, LetterOne loaned DIA 490 million euros ($546.06 million) and struck deals to extend debt agreements and set up new credit lines with banks.

DIA shareholders met on Tuesday and approved a capital hike, the proceeds of which will be partially used to pay back LetterOne's loan.

Fridman appeared in court in Madrid on Monday as part of a separate case, in which judges are investigating the bankruptcy of digital entertainment firm Zed Worldwide. He denied all charges in that case in a statement on Monday. ($1 = 0.8973 euros) (Reporting by Emma Pinedo and Isla Binnie Editing by Ingrid Melander and Jan Harvey)

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