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EuropaCorp Being Circled by Potential Buyers, Investors (EXCLUSIVE)

Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp is being circled by potential buyers and investors as it struggles to climb out from under a mountain of debt. Among the suitors, sources say, is business tycoon Tarak Ben Ammar, a shareholder in The Weinstein Co. and a board member of Vivendi.

Hit by the disappointing performance of last year’s “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” EuropaCorp has directed its primary lender, JP Morgan, to find someone who can inject equity capital into the company as well as restructure and pay a portion of its debt. Several well-informed sources tell Variety that the company urgently needs to find a solid partner by March 30, which marks the end of its financial year. The company’s market capitalization fell to €57.4 million ($70.2 million) as of Thursday, while losses reached €119.9 million ($146.8 million) and its net debt skyrocketed to €230 million ($281.6 million) as of September.

JP Morgan currently holds EuropaCorp’s assets, including its valuable library, in escrow, meaning the assets are frozen until a deal is made, said a French financier close to EuropaCorp. The company has already sold off its French TV production unit for €11 million. In a cost-cutting move announced earlier this week, EuropaCorp signaled its intention to lay off 22 employees.

The Paris-based outfit will host a management presentation next week to outline the company’s strategy and discuss its assets with prospective buyers, a source close to the situation said. Those assets are considerable, including a library worth about €150 million ($184 million), strong franchises like “Taken” and “Transporter,” and Besson himself, who remains a popular and well-connected filmmaker.

Among the potential buyers and investors is Ben Ammar, according to three independent sources. Ben Ammar already owns a 25% stake in Besson’s Cite du Cinema, a mega-studio located on the outskirts of Paris, through his company Quinta Communication. Ben Ammar is interested in acquiring a significant stake in EuropaCorp, though not necessarily a majority share, via his banner Eagle Pictures, Italy’s largest independent distributor, according to a source close to the businessman.

Also said to be interested in buying up or into EuropaCorp is Lionsgate, which is currently working with Besson as a co-producer and distributor for his upcoming thriller “Anna,” starring Helen Mirren. Lionsgate has not responded to requests from Variety for comment.

Meanwhile, France’s TF1 is possibly eyeing some of EuropaCorp’s catalog, according to two French industry sources.

EuropaCorp would prefer to find a shareholder who could plow in at least €100 million, rather than have its assets sold off piecemeal, sources say. Currently, the company’s two biggest shareholders are Besson, with a 31.6% stake, followed by China’s Fundamental Films, which took a 27.9% stake in the company in September 2016 after investing €60 million.

One potential stumbling block for buyers is the small portion of EuropaCorp’s debt held by Vine Alternative Investments at a high interest rate in the range of 15%.

In light of its financial difficulties, EuropaCorp has taken steps to scale back its ambitions and slash its overhead. The banner has vowed to reduce its slate to two to three English-language films and about two French movies a year following the underwhelming performance of “Valerian” and such English-language films as “Shut In,” “The Circle,” and “Miss Sloane,” which failed at the U.S. box office.

The layoff plan announced earlier this week would eliminate 22 of the company’s 79 jobs in France. Former CEO Marc Shmuger exited the company in December, three months after deputy CEO Edouard de Vesinne was ousted. Besson is officially serving as CEO of the company.

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