Debt turmoil hits Esporta(3)

French bank Société Générale, having failed to syndicate a £330 million loan backing Simon Halabi’s acquisition of Esporta from Duke Street Capital, has pulled the plug on the property tycoon’s deal vehicles - although the gyms continue to trade profitably, administrators say.

The credit crunch has claimed another victim, after the investment vehicles behind the buyout of leisure group Esporta were placed into administration by Syrian property tycoon Simon Halabi.

However, the 54 gyms under the Esporta brand are not in administration.

Halabi’s hand was forced, according to a source familiar with the deal, by French bank Société Générale, which had been unable to syndicate its £330 million loan in a turbulent debt market.

Grant Thornton has been appointed joint administrator of Bell Leisure Investment No 1 and No 2 to help sell or restructure the company.

The source said Halabi had been asked to put up an additional £50 million “now or never”.

Halabi hired Lazards to conduct an auction of the gym chain. He is also seeking a four-month delay to the settlement of a £30 million loan note provided by vendor Duke Street Capital last November. Duke Street sold the chain for £460 million.

The arrival of administrators is the culmination of an unsettled nine months. Former chief executive Neil Gillis and former finance director Michael Ball left unexpectedly just a few months after Halabi took control. Charlie Parker, the former Clubhaus managing director, who had been lined up as chairman, also exited precipitously.