Independent News and Media, the family-controlled publishing company, looks close to a deal to sell its two London-based titles the Independent and Independent on Sunday to Russian businessman Alexander Lebedev.
In the clearest sign yet that a deal is imminent, the UK's Office of Fair Trading posted an invitation yesterday asking for comment on the "anticipated acquisition of the Independent and Independent on Sunday by Lebedev Holdings Limited."
INM, controlled by the O'Reilly family, announced in December it was in talks with Lebedev regarding the future ownership of the titles. A further announcement in early February extended the discussion period for the talks until today "to facilitate bringing these discussions to a successful conclusion."
The proposed sale is part of a wider strategy to reduce debt at the Ireland-based publishing company, which has already sold other assets including its South African outdoor advertising business. A rights issue in December helped the debt-laden group raise €90.2 million towards reducing its €1.4 billion debt. (Click here to read our coverage of the story)
The O'Reilly family, the largest shareholders in the business, were also forced to defend against a leadership challenge in 2009 from rebel shareholder Denis O'Brien, who is a long-standing critic of the family's control of the business. (Click here to read our ongoing coverage of the story)
Second-generation Gavin O'Reilly (pictured) succeeded his father to become INM CEO in May 2009 during a particularly difficult period for publishing companies around the world. It is yet to be seen if the cost-cutting measures implemented by O'Reilly have been successful as INM's 2009 results have not been announced.
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