PARIS (Reuters) – Casino, heavily indebted, announced on Friday the opening of official negotiations with its creditors in order to resolve its financial difficulties, even though the distributor is the subject of several merger projects.

The group led and controlled by businessman Jean-Charles Naouri, owner of the Franprix and Monoprix brands in particular, said that the Paris Commercial Court had decided to open conciliation proceedings on Thursday for an initial period of four month, possibly extendable by one month. Aurélia Perdereau (Thévenot Partners) and Marc Sénéchal (BTSG) have been appointed as conciliators.

“As part of the ongoing discussions with the Teract group and the Groupement Les Mousquetaires on the one hand, as well as in the extension of the proposal made to it by EP Global Commerce AS on the other hand, the Casino group considers that the conciliation procedure will make it possible to better frame the discussions with its creditors and potential investors”, declares the distributor in a press release.

The group’s consolidated net debt reached 6.4 billion euros at the end of December. Casino must repay 3 billion euros in debt over the next two years and the holding company through which Jean-Charles Naouri controls it is also heavily indebted.

The decision to initiate conciliation proceedings with creditors, including major French banks BNP Paribas and Crédit Agricole as well as international hedge funds, comes as Casino studies two separate merger proposals, one from the Czech billionaire Daniel Kretinsky, through EP Global Commerce, and the other from Teract, a smaller distribution group.

In a separate press release, Casino also announced on Friday the signing with the Groupement Les Mousquetaires, owner of the Intermarché supermarket chain, of a “protocol of intentions which significantly extends and extends their industrial and purchasing partnerships, and which optimizes their respective networks.

This agreement provides in particular for the sale to the Groupement Les Mousquetaires, which joined Teract’s merger proposal in April, of Casino sales outlets in France representing around 1.05 billion euros in turnover excluding tax.

“The Groupement Les Mousquetaires will also participate, under minority participation conditions, in the future round table of the Casino group, with an equity investment of up to 100 (million euros),” Casino said.

The listing of Casino shares, suspended since Monday, will resume this Friday at the opening of the Paris Stock Exchange, the group said.

(Report Dominique Vidalon; Camille Raynaud and Bertrand Boucey)

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