Black sells Fairfax stake

Hollinger, Conrad Black's media holding company, yesterday agreed to sell a 20 per cent stake in Fairfax, the Australian media giant, for A$447.1m (pounds 213m), ending a five-year attempt to win control of the company.

The stake, sold to Brierley Investments of New Zealand, was being seen last night as a bargaining chip in the battle for control of Fairfax, which has in the past attracted the interest of three media barons: Mr Black, Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Packer, the Australian TV and print mogul.

Brierley, which is known to invest in companies for investment purposes, was thought likely to open discussions with Mr Packer about selling the stake on, once Australian media ownership rules were reformed.

The company insisted, however, that the holding was "strategic" and that it had no immediate intentions of seeking a buyer.

Mr Packer has a 15 per cent stake in Fairfax, the maximum allowed by companies which also control television stations. Mr Murdoch's News Corporation recently sold its 5 per cent stake.

Brierley has a conditional agreement to pay $106.7m for Hollinger's remaining 5 per cent stake. Hollinger, which held the stake through a Dutch-based subsidiary of the company's Daily Telegraph group, is expected to use the proceeds to reduce corporate debt.

Mr Black made it clear earlier this year that he would seek to sell the stake if the Australian government did not allow him to increase his holding. Despite intensive lobbying, there were few signs that the limits on foreign ownership would be lifted.

Hollinger recently bought out the minority shareholders in the Telegraph group, and Mr Black has focused his attention recently on his Canadian media holdings. Fairfax owns the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age in Melbourne.

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