Jean-Pierre Meyers, an important shareholder in internet wine company 1855.com is reported to have pulled his money out of the company.
Meyers is the husband of Françoise Bettencourt, the daughter of L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, and sits on the boards of L’Oréal and Nestlé.
He is understood to have invested between €8-10m in 1855.com, from 2004. Françoise Bettencourt has also invested around €1m in the company.
Two months ago he instructed his lawyers to pull his money out of the site but told them to keep it confidential, La Revue du Vin de France has reported.
Fabien Hyon, the managing director of 1855, told Decanter.com, ‘Jean-Pierre Meyers was not a shareholder of 1855 but a shareholder of the founder’s holding.’ The majority shareholder is the holding company, Aphrodite.
Hyon said that Meyers ‘had never been a main source of funding’ for the company, and that the figures quoted by RVF ‘are widely over-evaluated’.
He said that 1855.com benefited from three main sources of funding: ‘its profitability, access to the stock market, and the founder’s holding financial standing.’
Hyon also said that Meyers’ departure, far from weakening the company, is an ‘opportunity to reinforce’ its financial structure, and that new shareholders had come on board.
‘It is a pleasure to announce that a group of new shareholders has joined the founder’s holding: they are authentic entrepreneurs, strongly involved in the development of 1855 for the coming years.’
The reputation and credibility of 1855.com has been increasingly battered due to its failure to deliver customers’ wines. In early August French TV channel France 2 labeled it arnaque – a fraud.
There has been an increasing number of court decisions against 1855.com.
Courts in Bordeaux and Arcachon have imposed fines of €50 a day until 1855 delivers outstanding Bordeaux en primeurs, and in late July Philippe Castéja, president of the Conseil des Grands Crus Classés en 1855, spoke out against the company’s continued failure to deliver.
There has also been a number of court judgments against 1855 in Paris. There are many other cases outstanding against the company.
Furious complaints from customers are not confined to 1855 but also to its subsidiaries – Cave Privée and ChâteauOnline. Dissatisfied customers have recently formed a pressure group, Abus1855, which has over 100 members, with the stated aim of taking legal action to close down 1855 for fraudulent practices.
1855 has required frequent injections of fresh capital. The latest was in July 2012 when €7.5m was injected with three million earmarked to improve wine deliveries.
1855 shares are currently trading on the Paris Bourse at €0.02, valuing the company at €10.66m. Five years ago shares reached a high of €5.
In an email sent to Decanter.com today, the director of the Conseil des Grands Crus Classés, Sylvain Boivert, said the news from Meyers was ‘the good news of the day’.
On 21 December shareholders will vote on restructuring the shares at an EGM in Paris.
Written by Jim Budd