PARIS — In his first comments on the legal dispute between LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and Tiffany & Co., French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he was within his rights to ask the French luxury group to delay the acquisition — but he also seemed to contradict LVMH’s assertion that his letter was unsolicited.
Responding to a question in parliament on Tuesday, the minister said his actions were fully justified.
“In terms of economic diplomacy, my role is threefold: it is to share the government’s trade and transatlantic policy with French companies with international operations,” he said. “Secondly, my role is to answer their political questions, regardless of the country but specifically regarding the United States,” he added.
“Thirdly, my role is to apply, whenever appropriate, the government’s opinion on an assessment of a political nature regarding the management of major international events to come. That is the reason why I replied to a question from the LVMH group, totally in my role,” Le Drian concluded.
LVMH said it would not be able to complete its $16.2 billion acquisition of the U.S. jeweler after the government asked it to defer the transaction beyond Jan. 6, 2021. The request was made in the wake of a U.S. threat to slap tariffs on a range of French products in retaliation for French plans to tax American technology companies.
A spokesman for LVMH declined to comment on Le Drian’s remarks. LVMH executives have bristled at suggestions — and subsequent press reports — that the group lobbied the French government to help it find a loophole to call off the Tiffany transaction.
On a call disclosing that it was walking away from the deal, LVMH chief financial officer Jean-Jacques Guiony responded bluntly to a question from a reporter. “You must be joking. Are you seriously suggesting that we procured the letter? I don’t even want to answer that question,” he said. “It was fully unsolicited.”
LVMH and Tiffany are due to face off in Delaware’s Court of Chancery in January, unless a settlement is negotiated first. The U.S. jeweler wants LVMH to honor the deal, while LVMH is arguing Tiffany was mismanaged during the coronavirus pandemic, allowing LVMH to no longer go through with the acquisition.