French billionaire Drahi feels 'betrayed' as graft claims swirl

French billionaire Drahi feels 'betrayed' as graft claims swirl

Patrick Drahi said the claims had come as a 'shock and a huge disappointment'
Patrick Drahi said the claims had come as a 'shock and a huge disappointment'. Photo: STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP/File
Source: AFP

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With corruption claims threatening to engulf his global business empire, French-Israeli billionaire Patrick Drahi said Monday that he felt "betrayed and deceived" by a small group of his colleagues.

Swiss-based Drahi, whose Altice group of businesses spans telecoms and media in Europe, Israel and North America, is trying to ease investor concerns weeks after one of his top lieutenants, Armando Pereira, was detained in Portugal.

The authorities there have accused Portuguese billionaire Pereira of 11 offences of corruption and money laundering, with a central allegation that he set up a network of bogus suppliers to embezzle money through Altice's procurement system.

Pereira, who has no formal post but is widely seen as Drahi's right-hand man, denies the claims.

But the scandal has spread from Portugal to other parts of Drahi's empire, with executives in the United States and France being dismissed, suspended or stepping back.

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"If these allegations are true, I feel betrayed and deceived by a small group of individuals, including one of our oldest colleagues," Drahi told investors and analysts during a widely anticipated conference call on Monday.

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He said the claims had come as a "shock and a huge disappointment".

But he insisted that the amounts involved were relatively small, and that the firm was cooperating with law enforcement and had halted trading with any of the companies under investigation in Portugal.

'Very unpleasant'

Drahi, who generally keeps a low profile and rarely talks to investors, has amassed a fortune estimated at more than $10 billion, making him France's 13th richest man, according to French magazine Challenges.

He pieced together a network of companies through leveraged acquisitions and is now a major player in telecoms in France, Israel, Belgium, Luxembourg, Portugal and Switzerland.

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Drahi, who also owns broadband firm Altice USA and part of Britain's BT, is known as an art lover and bought Sotheby's auction house in 2019.

But his investment spree was made possible in large part by borrowing, resulting in a debt pile worth around $60 billion.

With interest rates rising and the corruption scandal making headlines, Drahi chose to make a rare appearance on calls with investors and analysts on Monday and Tuesday.

"It is very unpleasant to see the word 'corruption' next to the name of our group," he said, adding that his company should be regarded as "a victim".

Source: AFP

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