Tiffany wants Bernard Arnault to testify in court on merger intrigue

Tiffany & Co. wants to grill LVMH chief Bernard Arnault in court about his reported attempts to wriggle out of the $16.2 billion marriage of the luxury giants, The Post has learned.

The New York-based jeweler — which sued LVMH on Wednesday to prevent the French luxury conglomerate from backing out of the November 2019 deal — wants to force the French billionaire to testify on the stand whether he asked French officials for help to scuttle the merger, which has soured since the Covid-19 crisis tanked Tiffany’s business.

Specifically, Tiffany plans to ask Arnault — who is Europe’s richest man with a net worth of $86.5 billion — about allegations that he solicited a letter from France’s foreign affairs office that asked LVMH to delay the tie-up, sources said.

That letter arrived only because Arnault approached the French government for assistance in getting out of the deal, Bloomberg News reported this week. Arnault reportedly went to the foreign ministry after the nation’s finance ministry rejected his request.

“He’ll get questioned: Did you go to the Ministry of Finance?” a source close to the escalating legal battle told The Post.

Questions about how Arnault tried to get the letter, who approached whom, and why the Ministry of Finance did not issue the letter could be embarrassing for the fashion tycoon, who is the world’s fourth-richest person, sources close to Tiffany said.

Arnault is insulted and angry about Tiffany’s suit against LVMH, believing it is a personal attack, a source close to LVMH said. The Paris-based conglomerate said this week that the French government had asked it to delay the merger until January in response to planned US tariffs on French luxury goods.

LVMH — whose pricey labels include Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior and Marc Jacobs — said Wednesday that the foreign ministry’s letter was unsolicited. The company believes it has a valid order from the French government to delay the merger closing, according to sources close to LVMH.

Tiffany, meanwhile, suspects that LVMH pressured the French government to ask for a delay so LVMH in turn could push 183-year-old Tiffany for a price cut in the merger, sources said. LVMH agreed to pay $135 a share in the deal, but Tiffany shares were trading at $113.78 as of 10:02 a.m. Thursday.

Tiffany plans to compel Arnault to testify in the second or third week of October — though the company believes he will cave and go through with the deal rather than take the stand, the source said.

The Delaware Chancery Court, where Tiffany filed the suit, is known for moving quickly, and Tiffany has asked for an expedited trial so a judge can rule before the merger agreement’s Nov. 24 expiration.

Tiffany does not believe any letter from the French government will hold up in Delaware Chancery Court, sources said. The European Union has jurisdiction over mergers and is the only regulator for the EU countries that can order a merger be stopped.

“France is powerless to interfere with the transaction,” according to a source close to Tiffany.

LVMH declined to comment. Tiffany did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on LVMH’s Thursday statement.

On Thursday, LVMH fired back, saying it would sue Tiffany over its management of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced it to close stores and hammered its sales. LVMH called Tiffany’s financial results for the first half of the year “very disappointing” and “significantly inferior” to LVMH’s comparable jewelry brands, which include Bulgari, Hublot and TAG Heuer.

LVMH also rebutted Tiffany’s allegations that it failed to seek antitrust approval for the deal in key jurisdictions such as the European Union. The company said it expects EU officials will approve the deal next month after LVMH files for approval, which it plans to do in “the following days.”

Tiffany’s lawsuit “has clearly been prepared by Tiffany a long time ago and communicated in a misleading way to shareholders and is defamatory,” LVMH said in a statement. “LVMH will defend itself vigorously.”