EMI forces 'Big Brother' tycoon to reveal stake

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Jon De Mol, the Dutch creator of Big Brother and one of the overseas investors stalking Manchester United, has snapped up a near-4 per cent stake in the music group EMI.

Mr De Mol's holding company Talpa Beheer is the owner of 29.3 million EMI shares worth £48.5m, bought on his behalf by the Dutch bank ING.

He was flushed out by EMI after it sent a 212 notice to ING demanding to know the identity of the beneficial owner of the shares. The 3.72 per cent stake built up by Mr De Mol is a notifiable shareholding.

The emergence of Mr De Mol on the EMI share register comes as the music group, which is home to the Rolling Stones and Robbie Williams, attempts to negotiate a $1.5bn (£901m) takeover of AOL Time Warner's music business. EMI strengthened its balance sheet last month by raising €425m (£302m) in a new bond issue - fuelling speculation that a bid for the Warner business is on the way.

Mr De Mol is the fourth-biggest individual shareholder in Manchester United with a stake of 4.1 per cent. He increased his holding in the Premiership club only this week but maintains he is a financial investor in the company rather than a strategic one. He also says he has had no contact with the Irish horseracing duo, JP McManus and John Magnier, who own 23.15 per cent of the club, or the American football magnate Malcolm Glazer, who owns just under 9 per cent.

The Dutch investor could not be reached for comment last night on his shareholding in EMI, nor was the music company able to say whether it intended to approach Mr De Mol to establish what his intentions are in taking the stake.

A merger between EMI and Warner Music would create the world's second biggest music empire behind Universal, with a roster of artists ranging from The Beatles and Frank Sinatra to Madonna and Christine Aguilera. Analysts estimate it could also generate up to $300m in cost savings.

However, a planned link-up between the two record companies has already been blocked once by European regulators and any fresh attempt to merge would attract the close scrutiny of competition authorities.

Bertelsmann, EMI's privately owned German rival, was also courting Warner Music but dropped out of talks and is now pursuing a tie-up with Sony of Japan.

Mr De Mol's investment in Manchester United lost a little of its value yesterday as shares in the club fell for the second successive day to close at 233p. However, his EMI investment is already showing a profit - shares in the company ended 2.5p higher yesterday at 165.5p.