Sotheby's sold to French-Israeli billionaire for $3.7bn

Banksy’s Girl with Balloon
Banksy’s Girl with Balloon self-destructed after selling for $1.4m during a Sotheby’s auction

Sotheby’s auction house, one of the world’s largest brokers of fine art and jewelry, is returning to private ownership after 31 years in a $3.7bn takeover agreed with the French-Israeli billionaire behind telecoms giant Altice.

Patrick Drahi, who is worth an estimated $9.3bn, is a longtime client of the auction house, which has salesrooms around the world including in New York, London, Hong Kong and Paris.

The art collector and high-profile media and telecoms entrepreneur will pay $57 per share in cash, valuing the fine art dealer at a premium of 61pc to the company’s closing stock price on Friday.

Born in Morocco and educated in Paris, the 55-year-old businessman is known for his debt-fuelled acquisitions which he has used to build a transatlantic telecoms and media empire that includes French telecoms giant SFR, as well as assets further afield in Israel and the Dominican Republic.

Sotheby’s began life in London in 1744 before expanding to New York in 1955. After launching across the globe, it became the first international fine art auction house to crack the Chinese market seven years ago.

Patrick Drahi, the billionaire founder of telecoms giant Altice

 Sotheby’s has auctioned numerous pieces of art and collectibles down the years,  including Pablo Picasso's Dora Maar au Chat for $95m in 2006 and a rare 710-year-old copy of Magna Carta for $21.3m in 2007.

Last year, the company hit the headlines after Banksy’s Girl with Balloon self-destructed as soon as it sold for $1.4m during a Sotheby’s auction.

Amid the growing profitability of private transactions, Sotheby’s has also bought a string of art galleries and helped dealers finance purchases.

The takeover will require approval from regulators and shareholders, and is expected to close during the fourth quarter of this year.

Sotheby’s chief executive, Tad Smith, said that the deal would provide a “more flexible private environment” for the business.

Domenico De Sole, chairman of the board, said: “[The] board enthusiastically supports Mr. Drahi’s offer, which delivers a significant premium to market for our shareholders. After more than 30 years as a public company, the time is right for Sotheby’s to return to private ownership to continue on a path of growth and success.”