British-based luxury phone maker Vertu has been bought yet again, the third time the company has changed hands since Nokia spun off the business in 2012. According to a report from The Telegraph, the firm has been purchased for £50 million ($61 million) by an investment vehicle funded by Turkish exile Hakan Uzan.
A reported by The Telegraph, Hakan is scion to the once dominant Uzan family. At its height, the Uzan Group conglomerate included a bank, a string of power plants, several broadcasting companies, and a mobile carrier, Telsim. The latter was founded in 1994 with money borrowed from Nokia and Motorola. After Telsim hit financial difficulties during the dotcom crash and defaulted on loans worth $2.7 billion in 2001, the companies sued the Uzans, winning billions of dollars in damages.
This was only the beginning of the family’s downfall, and in 2004 the Turkish government seized more than 200 companies belonging to the Uzan Group. These were taken, said the government, to repay debts totaling nearly $5.7 billion accrued by the family’s Imar Bank. Several members of the Uzan family, including patriarch Kemal Uzan, went on the run, claiming they were being targeting due to their politics. According to The Telegraph, the Uzans “received political asylum in France but their precise whereabouts are unknown.”
But buying Vertu doesn’t exactly seem like a break from the family’s financial troubles. The phone maker is known for selling outdated Android devices with middling specs and luxury stylings like raspberry pink ostrich leather cases. In its most recent financial report in 2014, the company made a loss of £53 million on sales of £110 million. By 2015, it had reportedly sold some 450,000 devices worldwide, with an average selling price of around $6,000. It maintains a manufacturing headquarters in the UK, as well as a number of retail outlets around the world.
In 2012 Vertu was sold by Nokia to Swedish private equity group, EQT VI, for around £175 million. In 2015, EQT sold it on again to Hong Kong-based fund Godin Holdings for an unknown amount. In a statement given to The Telegraph, new owner Hakan Uzan said via a spokesperson: “Vertu is a powerful brand with an acknowledged market niche. I look forward to working with the team and providing the investment to enable Vertu to realize its full potential.”