Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct said it was considering a cash offer to take over Debenhams as it fired the latest salvo in the tussle for control of the struggling chain.
Sports Direct already owns 30% of the department store business but faces seeing its stake wiped out, along with those of other shareholders, under a restructuring plan which would see lenders take over.
In a statement issued after the close of trading on Monday evening, it said that, alongside other options, it was now considering a possible offer for the rest of the company it does not already own, but without giving a price.
The company said the offer was likely to be solely in cash.
Sports Direct has in recent weeks already seen a series of proposals to inject new funds into the chain – all on condition of Mr Ashley being installed as chief executive – rejected by the Debenhams board.
Earlier on Monday, Sports Direct attacked Debenhams for rejecting these rescue plans – which include an offer last Friday to pay £100m for its Danish operation Magasin du Nord.
It argued that its approach was better than the “multiple insolvency processes” currently being considered.
The department store said last week there were “obvious concerns” about handing the chief executive role to Mr Ashley, given that Sports Direct already owns House of Fraser – concerns dismissed by Sports Direct.
For its part, Debenhams is seeking a £200m lifeline from its lenders that could lead to a debt-for-equity swap or pre-pack administration process in which the lenders take control.
In its announcement on Monday evening, Sports Direct said its alternative plan of a possible cash offer would be “compelling” for shareholders since it would allow them to realise value in their shareholdings.
It added: “Sports Direct would seek to run the Debenhams business for the benefit of all Debenhams stakeholders rather than for the benefit of Debenhams existing lenders.”
Mr Ashley already controls large swathes of the high street, having swallowed up House of Fraser as well as Evans Cycles last year, and holding stakes in French Connection and Game Digital as well as Debenhams.