German media giant poised to scoop up troubled Mirror

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The Independent Online
GERMANY'S biggest newspaper group yesterday admitted it was considering a bid for Mirror Group, whose flagship paper stoked anti-German feeling during Euro 96 with a headline saying "Achtung! Surrender".

Axel Springer, publisher of the best-selling Bild Zeitung, modelled on the Mirror when created after the Second World War, is rumoured to be planning to pay up to pounds 1.2bn.

A German takeover would raise doubts about the future of Kelvin MacKenzie, xenophobic former Sun editor and now Mirror editorial supremo. Piers Morgan, editor of the Mirror, who apologised after his anti-German front page was criticised by MPs, is also likely to be in the line of fire. "I certainly wouldn't have a problem working for Germans," he said. "Bild came back at us ... with stuff about us being roast-beef eating and unhealthy. I think it's safe to say they had a sense of humour about it."

The future of Mr MacKenzie and Mr Morgan may rely on their past relationship with Gus Fischer, head of Axel Springer, who ran News International when both worked at the Sun. The bid could make some journalists rich. Mr MacKenzie has shares and options and if the new owners want to ditch him it could cost pounds 620,000 to buy out his contract. David Montgomery, chief executive of the Mirror Group, who has made pounds 2m cashing options, could make another pounds 640,000 in shares on top of a likely pounds 1.1m pay-off.

Mirror Group has long been rumoured as a takeover target, because its shares have been under-performing. Mirror sales have fallen to where the Sun is 1.3 million copies a day ahead of it; the Daily Mail is within 20,000 copies of overtaking it.