Painkillers fly off Swedish store shelves

In the first two months of trading after the government overhaul of pharmacies in Sweden, supermarkets and petrol stations reaped around 10 percent of the non-prescription drug market.

The sale of over-the-counter medicines in grocery stores and petrol stations began in November last year when the Swedish state sold off 465 of its estimated 900 Apoteket pharmacies to private firms.

The move also opened up the market for prescription-free products, an industry worth around 3.5 billion kronor ($484 million) in Sweden annually.

According to supermarket trade magazine Fri Köpenskap, private outlets have already achieved sales corresponding to 350 million ($48,414) crowns a year.

A 20-tablet pack of headache remedy Alvedon has proved a successful seller, with shops taking 14 percent of the market in that specific product.

At present, shops and other businesses selling non-prescription drugs are forced into a more expensive wholesale price than Apoteket because they buy in smaller volumes.

That cost difference is passed on to the consumer.

”With a given consumer price, Apoteket has average margins of 30-35 percent while supermarket chains have 25 percent,” said Thomas Svaton, CEO of Svensk Dagligvaruhandel (Swedish Food Retailers’ Federation) to the magazine.

But he predicts that shops will have the selling power to drop prices in the future.

”In countries where these types of remedies have been sold in this way for many year, prices are up to 15 percent cheaper than in pharmacies,” Svaton added.

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Spanish court probes Russian tycoon’s purchase of supermarket chain Dia

Spain's top criminal court said Thursday it has opened an investigation into whether Russian tycoon Mikhail Fridman artificially depressed the share price of supermarket chain Dia before buying the firm.

Spanish court probes Russian tycoon's purchase of supermarket chain Dia
File photo of a Dia supermarket. Photo: AFP

The Kremlin-friendly oligarch appeared in court in Madrid on Monday as part of a separate similar case in which judges are investigating allegations he acted to bring down the value of another Spanish takeover target, digital entertainment firm Zed Worldwide.   

He denied all charges in that case in a statement released after he was questioned in court.

An investigating judge with the National Court “has begun investigating a complaint” against Fridman and his Luxembourg-based investment company LetterOne “in connection with its acquisition of Dia”, according to a document from the court published Thursday.   

In May, LetterOne secured majority control of the struggling supermarket chain via a hostile takeover following a bitter dispute with its previous management as the firm's share price slumped.

The judge is investigating allegations made in an anonymous complaint that LetterOne “maintained a heightened financial tension to lower the share price, until it managed to buy the company,” the court document said.

Spain's Supreme Court had in September given the National Court a mandate to investigate this case which it said could constitute the crime of “market manipulation” and could have had “serious repercussions on… the national economy” given the size of Dia's supermarket network in the country, the document added.

It cited a police report alleging that Fridman acted in a “coordinated and concerted way” through a network of “criminal associates… to create a situation of conflict… and lack of liquidity in the short term” so as to lower Dia's price and buy the firm.   

In a statement, LetterOne called these allegations “totally false and defamatory”.

“The reality is Dia suffered from mismanagement and accounting irregularities were discovered, which negatively affected all shareholders, including LetterOne,” it added.

LetterOne said it was “committed” to investing 1.6 billion euros to protect jobs, suppliers and keep stores open.

Through LetterOne, Fridman also controls interests in telecoms, banking, oil and healthcare.   

The tycoon, who is reportedly close to the Kremlin and was listed by Forbes this year as London's richest resident, is also one of the founders of Alfa Bank, Russia's largest privately-held lender.

READ MORE: From Russia with love: Tycoon buys out ailing Spanish supermarket