Sports Direct mogul Mick Ashley has redoubled his efforts to take control of Debenhams, improving his bid at an auction for the besieged department store.
The auction, run by Lazard, is coming to an end, with Ashley suing the channel which came under administration for the second time in April, according to reports in The Sunday Times.
The move could help save Debenhams, which employs around 12,000 people and has more than 120 UK locations.
Lazard was appointed in July to lead the sale process and had asked potential buyers to submit bids by early September.
In September, India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, was reportedly vying to make an offer, but has since abandoned
The current owners, including hedge funds Silver Point and Golden Tree, recently decided the fate of the company, lining up Hilco as liquidator.
Ashley previously owned nearly 30% of Debenhams, losing nearly £ 150million ($ 116.1million) when it was bought out by lenders last year.
In March of last year, Sports Direct said it was considering making an offer to 5p per share for Debenhams, which would value the retailer at £ 61.4million. This was before it was administered and delisted from the stock exchange.
At the time, the offer included a promise that Sports Direct would help Debenhams meet its funding needs, but only if Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley was installed as CEO of the department store.
Debenhams is among dozens of other retailers facing an uncertain future due to the pandemic.
The first semester has seen a record number of store closures in the UK.
According to research by the Local Data Company (LDC) and PwC United Kingdom, 11,120 chain operator outlets have closed so far this year, while 5,119 stores have opened. This means a net drop of 6,001, almost double the drop recorded in 2019.
That number could be even higher, as researchers did not take into account stores that have yet to reopen after the COVID-19 lockdown, with the grim expectation that many will never operate again.
Watch: Why job losses have increased despite the reopening of the economy