PARIS—Le Monde, the famed but struggling French newspaper, has accepted the offer of a trio of investors, one of whom made his fortune in online porn. In agreeing to the sale, the paper snubbed the country’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who had pressured the paper’s staff to reject the offer tendered by Yves Saint Laurent Group partner Pierre Berge, Lazard Ltd. banker Matthieu Pigasse and internet billionaire Xavier Niel, whose initial career involved running sex-chat services.
According to Bloomberg, Sarkozy opposed the deal because “Berge backed opposition Socialist Party candidate Segolene Royal in the 2007 presidential election and is close to International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a possible 2012 candidate for the Socialists.” Pigasse also is reported to be a supporter of France’s Socialist Party, a fact that only further fueled Sarkozy’s fury.
But it is Niel’s porn past that also is garnering a fair share of the headlines, with some papers speculating that the controversy created by this transaction could rival that of the purchase of the Daily Express by Richard Desmond, who made millions from since-sold adult magazines.
According to the Guardian, Niel, 42, “made his first serious money when he was in his teens, launching a ‘sexual contact’ agency on Minitel, an early forerunner of the internet launched by the French post office that allowed users to send electronic messages over phone lines. Niel then branched out into peep shows, before building a hugely successful internet business called lliad, a French equivalent of Freeserve that was the first to offer free access to the internet.”
In 2006, he also was sentenced to a two-year suspended sentence for embezzlement, and the Guardian contends that his interest in Le Monde may be motivated by an interest in embarrassing powerful figures like Sarkozy. Considering the pasts of all three investors, therefore, it’s easy to see why the French president lobbied so heavily against the sale, and why, perhaps, the sale was approved by Le Monde’s journalists, who account for the largest stake holding group in the paper.
The trio reportedly bid $135 million (110 million euros) for the paper.