O'Reilly discussed bids for 'Observer' and MGN

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The Independent Online
TONY O'REILLY, the Irish tycoon who is president of HJ Heinz, said yesterday he had held discussions with Lonrho about a possible bid for the Observer newspaper. He also confirmed that he had made several unsuccessful bids for the banks' 54 per cent stake in Mirror Group Newspapers.

Mr O'Reilly said Independent Newspapers, the Irish media group he chairs, last year approached John Talbot, administrator of the Maxwell private companies, and the creditor banks with an offer for their majority stake in MGN.

He was speaking after the annual meeting of Independent, in which he has a 27 per cent stake. Independent built up a 2 per cent holding in MGN when Mirror shares were relisted last July. Mr O'Reilly said his company had made pounds 3m profit when it sold the shares earlier this year.

'We saw an opportunity and we engaged in discussions with the banks and the administrator,' he said. 'We discussed a range of prices substantially below the current market price. From their point of view the banks were vindicated in turning us down.'

He said Independent had intended to put together a consortium to bid for MGN and would have managed the Daily Mirror for the consortium.

Independent also considered acquiring the Observer 'but the problem was it would be like going in against a 900lb gorilla in the Sunday Times', Mr O'Reilly said.

Independent, which has media interests in Europe and Australia as well as in Ireland, doubled pre-tax profits to Ir pounds 16m last year.