INM: claim, counter claim, mud-slinging, sales talks – it rumbles on

Another weekend and another clutch of stories on the escalation of in-fighting at Independent News and Media.

Denis O’Brien, says the Observer, made accusations last week of an “‘old guard” on the board of the media company protecting the interests of its major shareholder Anthony O’Reilly and said his son, chief executive Gavin, as “incapable” of organising the heavily indebted firm’s financial restructuring.

Ireland’s Sunday Business Post reported how the gloves had really come off – it says in a heated telephone exchange between O’Brien and Gavin O’Reilly last week, O’Brien made it clear that he was up for a ”fight”.

‘A note of the conversation attributed O’Brien with saying that he would destroy O’Reilly and his father, Tony O’Reilly , and ”go after everything”.

O’Brien was speaking from Ibiza on a conference call, and an official INM note of the call is believed to outline in detail Gavin O’Reilly’s recollection of what was said. A spokesman for O’Brien declined to comment on what was said during the call.”

Both reports show the extent to which the relationship between the rival camps has deteriorated. The Business Post then talked to O’Reilly, who said told the paper it was not a time for a ‘personal vendetta’given the difficult position the company found itself in:

‘If Mr O’Brien has a constructive proposal to put to shareholders, let’s hear it, before asking shareholders to abandon an agreed road-map to financial stability.

”Conversely, if Mr O’Brien’s aim is to unilaterally wrestle control of this company for his own benefit, then he should avoid the back door and make a transparent bid for the company.”

The Irish Times reported that O’Brien claimed the London-based Independent titles had cost INM €285 million since the group first bought into them in the mid-1990s.

The Sunday Telegraph said O’Brien was willing to invest between between €40m to €60m (£35m to £52m) of his own cash to prop up the struggling media group if it accepts his radical plans for the company. INM dismissed O’Brien’s eight point suggestion for a shake-up last week after he called for an emergency EGM to discuss the closure or sale of the Independent titles.

If the war of words wasn’t enough, the Sunday Times reported that German newspaper giant Axel Springer, publisher of Die Welt and Bild, held talks with INM over becoming its largest shareholder through a rescue rights issue which would in effect dilute the holdings of INM founder Sir Anthony, who owns 28% of the group, and O’Brien, his arch rival, who holds 26%.

It is understood that Springer approached INM with the funding idea but the company had nothing to say on those specific talks, which are understood to have foundered on valuation, but confirmed that a number of approaches had been made.

‘There have been a number of approaches to the company by parties interested in taking a strategic investment in the group,’INM said. ‘It is probably not surprising given the current share price, which does not reflect the value of the business.”

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