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Debt-ridden Patrick Drahi will not hang BT

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Under pressure: billionaire Patrick Drahi

Under pressure: billionaire Patrick Drahi

Billionaire telecoms magnate and Sotheby’s owner Patrick Drahi is under pressure to split up his vast empire.

The French businessman’s children reportedly want the tycoon, who is BT’s largest shareholder, to reduce his investments in mobile telephony and broadband so he can invest his money in other industries.

More urgently, it faces a showdown with creditors of Altice, its telecommunications and media company struggling under a crushing mountain of debt of around £48bn.

Selling assets could be a way to raise funds quickly. This is already underway: Altice France’s media division was sold for £1.3bn in March. But there is one investment that Drahi, 60, has steadfastly protected despite losing money: BT.

The Mail on Sunday understands the sale of its 25 per cent stake in the British telecoms group is not on the cards. This is likely to come as a surprise as the Moroccan-born tycoon has lost huge sums since he initially bought a 12 per cent stake in 2021.

A few months later it raised it to 18 percent and then, in May 2023, it increased it to 24.5 percent.

Drahi, through Altice, has lost more than £200 million on his 2023 share purchase alone after BT’s share price plummeted.

BT, now worth £10.5bn, has lost value by 44 per cent since its first purchase.

It insists it does not want to acquire BT, although the Mail on Sunday reported last year that it was considering increasing its stake to 29 per cent. Its long-term goal is uncertain. BT is under new leadership after Allison Kirkby joined as chief executive of Swedish group Telia in February, replacing Philip Jansen. Telecoms analyst Paolo Pescatore said: ‘BT’s strategy has not changed since Drahi started increasing its stake.

“Some difficult decisions were made during Philip Jansen’s government and he is now in a better position.”

As BT makes progress in the UK, Drahi’s attention will be focused on the continent for the foreseeable future. He is said to be using his tough tactics on Altice’s creditors, who are stunned by his insistence that they reduce the company’s debt when many thought he would pay it off by selling parts of the business.

Alleged corruption at Altice’s Portuguese arm is also piling pressure on Drahi and French prosecutors began investigating the allegations in March.

Altice declined to comment.

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