Russian businessman Tavrin scoops up part of Melon Fashion Group’s chains

By Alexander Marrow

(Reuters) -Russian businessman Ivan Tavrin has got approval from the country’s antimonopoly watchdog to take control of Melon Fashion Group’s clothing store chains in Russia, expanding his corporate holdings.

Melon Fashion Group (MFG), based in St. Petersburg on a site that housed a sewing factory in Soviet times, owns four mainly women’s fashion brands – Zarina, Befree, Love Republic and Sela – and had 867 stores across five countries at the end of 2022.

Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) said on Thursday it had approved a request by Radio Reklama, a business ultimately owned by Tavrin, to acquire the four chains. It would buy up to 75% of MFG Invest shares and the right to control MFG’s activities, the FAS said.

MFG did not immediately comment.

Tavrin, former CEO of telecoms company MegaFon, has taken part in a series of large corporate asset transfers following Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

Tavrin’s Kismet Capital Group last year bought Russian online marketplace Avito for 151 billion roubles ($1.56 billion) from Dutch-based technology investor Prosus and later acquired a stake in German consumer goods group Henkel’s Russian business.

Swedish real estate firm Eastnine on Thursday said it had completed the divestment of its approximately 36% stake in MFG, selling to GEM Invest, part of a Cyprus-based investment firm, for 15.6 billion roubles, or 146 million euros.

“The purchase price…is in Eastnine’s account in a European bank,” Eastnine said in a statement. “Eastnine immediately initiates exchange of the rouble holdings, which is expected to be completed within a couple of weeks.”

Eastnine on Monday said the FAS and Russia’s government commission on foreign asset sales had approved the transaction.

Extracting money from Russia is becoming harder for foreign businesses. Obtaining approval for deals, with Moscow now demanding a 50% discount among other requirements, is a lengthy and difficult process, Western company executives have told Reuters.

It was not immediately clear what MFG’s new shareholder structure would be after the agreements.

($1 = 96.8430 roubles)

(Reporting by Alexander Marrow; additional reporting by Felix Light; editing by Jason Neely and Jane Merriman)