MacKenzie's £100m buyout of Wireless group 'not a done deal'

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The Independent Online

Kelvin Mackenzie's £100m takeover offer for Wireless Group is "not a done deal", according to sources close to the company's shareholders and its non-executive directors.

When news of the bid emerged over the weekend, it appeared that the major shareholders of the radio group, including Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, and its non-executive directors had already agreed to the offer. This impression was fuelled by the fact that this apparent support was first reported in a newspaper owned by News Corp.

However, it emerged yesterday that the non-executive directors and News Corp were still considering their positions and may well conclude that the offer is inadequate. The approach, which was confirmed yesterday and is as yet only an indicative offer, was considered at a Wireless board meeting on Friday. It was pitched at 90p a share.

A spokeswoman for News Corp said: "We have received an expression of interest. We have not entered into any irrevocables [acceptances] but we are interested in selling."

Sources close to major shareholders and non-executive directors said 90p a share was "not a knockout bid". At 90p, no premium is offered on Friday's Wireless share price.

One insider said: "They [shareholders and non-executives] are not hostile to the offer but they are not bowled over by it either. It is pitched at the lowest level possible to still be taken seriously."

Mr MacKenzie, who is being financed by the private equity group Veronis Suhler Stevenson, has been given until 21 March to conduct due diligence and have a fully funded offer on the table.

There was intense speculation yesterday about why Mr MacKenzie - who has declined to comment so far - was seeking to give the impression that his takeover was unstoppable. One theory was that he was trying to force the hand of News Corp and Liberty Media, the US group led by John Malone that also owns nearly 30 per cent of Wireless.

One City financier said: "What other options do News Corp and Liberty have? It is almost like a Mexican stand-off. But I'd not want to be in a stand-off against Rupert Murdoch and John Malone."

The other theory was that Mr MacKenzie was trying to scare off any other potential acquirers. One radio executive said a rival predator "may already be sniffing around", which is why Mr MacKenzie's side was so keen to imply that the deal was already agreed.