Wider Yachts attracts Asian investor

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Malaysian billionaire Sri Lim Kok Thay, whose luxury empire spans casinos and cruise liners, is set to buy half of Wider Yachts to expand into Asia, the founder of the Italian company said Tuesday.

Wider is the second Italian yacht maker to attract Asian investors. Chinese state-owned Shandong Heavy Industry took control of the Ferretti Group for 374 million euros ($493 million) in January.

"Asia is an incredibly growing market for yachting, but they still know very little about this world," Wider chairman and founder Tilli Antonelli told Reuters.

Super-luxury yacht sales have lagged in Europe since the economic downturn.

Global yacht sales were expected to grow 2 percent, to 7 billion euros, in 2012, the worst-performing sector in the 212-billion euro luxury industry, U.S. consultancy Bain told Reuters.

Antonelli launched Wider with longtime business partner Paolo Favilla in 2010 after quitting Pershing, the luxury motoryacht brand he founded 30 years ago and sold to Ferretti in the ’90s.

Wider made a splash with innovative, 12-meter day cruisers with fold-out cockpits that turn into a large walkable area for additional seating and more comfort.

Lim Kok Thay, Malaysia's 16th richest man, according to Forbes, and chairman of luxury group Genting, got in touch with Wider during a trip to southern France last summer, Antonelli said. Five months later the deal was signed.

After a capital increase, the Malaysian billionaire will become the single biggest shareholder in Wider with a 50 percent stake owned by his vehicle EXA Ltd., Antonelli said. Antonelli and Favilla will share the remaining 50 percent. Other financial details were not disclosed.

Antonelli, who owns the cockpit patent, said he expected revenue of 6 million euros this year.

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