Retail billionaire Solomon Lew has boosted his stake in department store David Jones to just under 10 per cent, signalling a clear intention to scuttle the $2.2 billion takeover by South Africa's Woolworths Holdings or demand a seat at the table.
Mr Lew's privately owned Australian Retail Investments announced on Wednesday it had seized a 9.89 per cent stake in David Jones after buying 53.11 million shares worth around $200 million.
The notice of becoming a substantial shareholder has confirmed what most market watchers have suspected for many weeks, that Mr Lew had been buying shares in takeover target David Jones since May 9.
The huge stake now in Mr Lew's pocket could be enough to vote down the Woolworths takeover proposal when it is put to David Jones shareholders in 13 days time. Overnight Woolworths shareholders in South Africa voted in favour of the deal.
Mr Lew has been rumoured to be circling David Jones for months, buying up shares through various corporate vehicles and masking his presence on the retailer's share register through complex derivatives and other lending arrangements.
However, Mr Lew's decision this morning to come out of the shadows with less than two weeks until David Jones shareholders meet to vote on the $4 cash per share takeover must be a signal to Woolworths and the wider market that he has other plans for David Jones.
Mr Lew is a member of the BRW Rich 200 list and is estimated to be worth more than $1.7 billion.
These could include spoiling the Woolworths bid and then making his own grab for control of Australia's second biggest and oldest department store.
The substantial shareholder notice issued by David Jones to the ASX on Wednesday shows Mr Lew's Australian Retail Investments vehicle as the owner of 9.89 per cent of David Jones shares.
The notice reveals the company, on behalf of Mr Lew, started buying shares on May 9 with a purchase of 3.5 million shares. Other purchases were sprinkled through late May and early June before ARI scooped up 26.8 million shares worth $104 million on June 16.
David Jones announced in late May that it had discovered Mr Lew had landed on its share register with a stake of 0.65 per cent.
Heavy buying in David Jones shares in the following weeks was undeclared by Mr Lew but many believed him to be the buyer.
Mr Lew and his advisers now have 13 days to derail the Woolworths takeover bid, with David Jones shareholders to meet in Sydney on June 30 to vote.
The deal must be supported by 75 per cent of shares voted at the meeting to succeed, meaning a 25 per cent 'no' vote can spoil the deal.
However, as not all shares are voted, Mr Lew might only need to rally a 'no' vote of only 15 per cent to succeed in turning away Woolworths.
Woolworths is yet to comment on the latest turn in the David Jones takeover on whether it will meet with Mr Lew to discuss his plans.
Shares in David Jones had a calm opening despite the excitement around Mr Lew's share raid, with David Jones up 1.5 cents to $3.895 in early trade. The Woolworths bid is at $4 per share, all cash.