Madame Tussauds owner Merlin to be bought by Lego family and Blackstone

Britain’s Merlin Entertainments is the owner of popular tourist attractions Madame Tussauds and the London Eye. (AFP)
Updated 28 June 2019

Madame Tussauds owner Merlin to be bought by Lego family and Blackstone

Madame Tussauds owner Merlin said on Friday it had agreed to be acquired by the investment vehicle of Lego’s founding family and private equity firm Blackstone Group LP in a deal valuing the company and its debt at nearly $7.6 billion (£6 billion).

The deal to buy Merlin Entertainments, which also operates Legoland theme parks around the world, values Merlin shares at 455 pence each, giving the firm an enterprise value of £5.905 billion.

The move will be one of the biggest private equity deals in Europe in recent years, and comes as buyout firms are flush with record amounts of cash to invest.

Merlin will be 50 percent owned by Kirkbi, the private investment company of Lego’s Kirk Kristiansen family, and 50 percent owned by Blackstone and Canadian pension fund CPPIB.

“Following an unsolicited approach by a consortium of investors, and after rejecting a number of their proposals, the Merlin Independent Directors believe this offer represents an opportunity for Merlin shareholders to realize value for their investment in cash at an attractive valuation,” Merlin Chairman John Sunderland said in a statement.

“We are therefore unanimously recommending it to our shareholders.”

The deal is expected to complete in the fourth quarter of 2019.

The deal comes after activist investor ValueAct Capital last month urged Merlin, which also operates Legoland and the Alton Towers theme park in Britain, to take itself private.

In an open letter, ValueAct said at the time that the level of investment needed in the company meant it would be better off returning to private ownership.

A source familiar with the matter said that the initial, unsolicited offer from the consortium valued the firm at 425 pence, and discussions about a takeover predated the ValueAct letter.


Estonian tourist stranded in Manila airport for 110 days due to COVID-19 goes home

Updated 07 July 2020

Estonian tourist stranded in Manila airport for 110 days due to COVID-19 goes home

  • Was stranded in an experience reminiscent of Tom Hanks’ character in the 2004 film “The Terminal”

LONDON: An Estonian tourist who spent more than 100 days living in an airport in the Philippines due to coronavirus travel restrictions is finally returning home, he said on Tuesday.

Roman Trofimov has been living in the departures lounge of Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport since March 20, after immigration authorities stopped issuing visas for entry into the country.

He was then stranded in the airport for a total of 110 days until July 7.

In an experience reminiscent of Tom Hanks’ character in the 2004 film “The Terminal,” Trofimov said he was sleeping on the airport floor, eating in its restaurants and washing in public bathrooms before the Estonian consulate arranged for his transfer to a passenger lounge on April 1.

On Tuesday, Trofimov said he was returning to Estonia on a plane landing in Tallinn on July 8.

Trofimov said he was on a “dream trip” traveling around Southeast Asia when coronavirus lockdowns began across the continent. He said his passport was taken by AirAsia staff before going through immigration in Manila on March 20.

He was booked to take an onward flight to Cebu province on the same day, with a return trip to Bangkok booked for April 2. Both flights were canceled as COVID-19 decimated international travel.

Due to entry visas not being issued by Philippine immigration authorities he was denied entry into the country, but the airline he flew in was unable to return him to Thailand as flights were being grounded.

According to Estonian media, Trofimov was traveling on what is known as a “grey passport” for people of “unclear citizenship” — issued to people with residency rights in Estonia who cannot get another passport.

In a statement, the Estonian foreign ministry said: “It is important to note that he flew to the Philippines during a time when countries had announced emergency situations and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had given a travel warning.”

Estonian officials told broadcaster ERR they had tried to help Trofimov organize a flight home, but according to reports he initially declined a repatriation flight due to the cost.

Speaking earlier this week, Trofimov said: “I've been stuck here for more than 100 days. I need help getting out.”

He added: “The airline said I need to wait for an ‘Enhanced Community Quarantine’ to be over before I am allowed to fly. I’ve been waiting here ever since.”

The Philippines has almost 48,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 1,300 people have died from the virus.