Hollick accused of seeking quick sale of 'Express'

Lord Hollick, the chief executive of United News & Media, was last night accused of trying to push through a sale of his Express newspaper titles to the billionaire Hinduja brothers by discriminating against other bidders.

Lord Hollick, the chief executive of United News & Media, was last night accused of trying to push through a sale of his Express newspaper titles to the billionaire Hinduja brothers by discriminating against other bidders.

United's financial advisers, Dresdner Kleinwort Benson, have insisted that any rival newspaper group interested in buying the titles must put up a non-refundable deposit of £60m if they want to enter exclusive negotiations.

The Daily Mail & General Trust, which has tabled an offer worth around £120m for the Express titles, said that such a condition was unacceptable. Conrad Black's Hollinger group, which owns the Telegraph and is considering a bid, will baulk at such a demand.

The condition is not thought to apply, however, to the offer from the Indian-born Hinduja brothers, further strengthening their bid. The Hindujas are already in a strong position, since any takeover by them would probably escape a referral to the Competition Commission, whereas bids by rival newspaper groups would result in an automatic reference.

It has also emerged that Trinity Mirror, the publisher of the Mirror titles, is co-operating with the Hindujas over their bid. Trinity Mirror is not thought likely to bid itself but it is interested in handling circulation and distribution of the Express titles were the Hindujas to succeed with their offer. The Hindujas are thought to have submitted a formal bid of more than £120m.

Other potential bidders include David Montgomery, the former chief executive of Mirror Group, who has financial backing from the venture capital group 3i and HSBC bank.

A rival bidder said last night: "The demand for a non-refundable deposit is totally unacceptable. Either Dresdner Kleinwort Benson is trying to show how tough it is or Lord Hollick wants to pull off a quick deal with the Hindujas and justify it to his shareholders on the grounds that no-one else was prepared to enter exclusive negotiations."

Sources close to the Express camp defended the demand for non-refundable deposits. "This is not an entry fee to the auction but a sensible and logical precaution. We do not want a rival newspaper publisher coming along on a fishing expedition, gaining commercially sensitive information and then simply walking away."

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