A majority stake in Paul UK, the upmarket patisserie operator, has been acquired by the ultimate parent company of the brand in France - a move that apes an exercise undertaken by rival Le Pain Quotidien last year, M&C Report understands.

The latest accounts for the group, which has 22 sites in London, indicate that the UK operation changed hands in March 2010 from Emeth Holding to Groupe Holder, the French company behind the entire Paul business.

However, no further information on the deal is available and the former owner of Paul UK and brand owner Groupe Holder have declined to comment on the situation.

Cavendish Corporate Finance was appointed to advise Paul UK on a sale last year and it is thought that the group held abortive sale talks with Paladin, the investment group led by Gerry Ford that owns Caffe Nero.

The recently filed accounts reveal that the group made a pre-tax operating loss of £234,157 for the year to 31 December 2009 after the “poor external economy took its toll”. Paul UK made a loss after tax of £315,175.

Sales were flat at £18.7m and it made a gross profit of £13.05m, but it incurred administrative expenses of £13.2m, thought largely to relate to a restructuring following the change in ownership.

David Belhassen launched Paul in the UK in 2000 after acquiring the franchise rights for the region. Neo Capital, a private equity firm connected to Belhassen, acquired a stake in the UK arm in 2004.

A spokeswoman for Belhassen said: “David has now decided that he cannot comment.”

It is thought that Belhassen may still be involved in the management of the business and that Neo has retained a minority stake.

The move by Paul UK apes a similar initiative undertaken by Le Pain Quotidien earlier this year when the UK operation, known as Village Du Pain, was acquired by the US-based parent company in a deal worth between £15m to £20m, including debt.

Paul UK currently runs sites in Bow Lane, Brompton Road, Canary Wharf, Covent Garden, Fleet Street, Fulham, Gloucester Road, Hampstead, High Holborn, Holland Park, Jubilee Place, Kings Road, Kingston, Leadenhall, Marylebone, New Street Square, Old Compton Street, Regent Street, Richmond, St Paul’s, South Kensington and Wimbledon village.

The brand was established in 1889 in the city of Croix by Charlemagne Mayot and was acquired by Groupe Holder, which also owns Laudree, the luxury cake and patisserie shop operator, in 1972.

It has more than 300 bakery café restaurants across 18 countries in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and America.