Independent titles sold to Lebedev family company

Thursday 25 March 2010 15:46 GMT

Independent Print Limited, a company owned by the Lebedev family, has agreed to acquire The Independent and Independent on Sunday newspapers in a deal that will safeguard the future of the business.

The agreement provides a commitment by the Lebedev family to invest in the newspapers, which are currently loss-making, and inject new energy and impetus into them.

The purchase of the Independent newspapers and follows the Lebedevs’ acquisition last year of a 75 per cent shareholding in the London Evening Standard. Since then the Evening Standard’s circulation has risen from 250,000 to 600,000 and it is now read by 1.4 million Londoners daily, substantially increasing its commercial revenues. Evgeny Lebedev last month became Chairman of Evening Standard Ltd.

Completion of the transaction is expected to take place in May following employee consultation and receipt of the relevant regulatory approval.

In addition to the London Evening Standard, The Lebedevs also co-own, with President Mikhail Gorbachev, Novaya Gazeta, one of Russia's few pro-democracy newspapers. The paper has a reputation for independence and high-quality journalism. Anna Politkovskaya, whose fearless reports from Chechnya resulted in her assassination in 2006, worked for Novaya Gazeta.

Alexander Lebedev said: "I invest in institutions which contribute to democracy and transparency and, at the heart of that, are newspapers which report independently and campaign for the truth to be revealed. I am a supporter of in-depth investigative reporting and campaigns which promote transparency and seek to fight international corruption. These are things the Independent has always done well and will, I hope, continue to do."

Alexander Lebedev also announced that he and President Mikhail Gorbachev plan to establish Novaya Independent Media Foundation (NIMF), a not-for-profit organisation that will finance global media projects. “In particular, we are talking about Novaya Gazeta in Russia, The Independent and The London Evening Standard in the UK. We hope that other philanthropists will also be interested in maintaining quality journalism to protect freedom of speech and encourage investigative reporting to promote greater transparency in society.”

His son Evgeny Lebedev, who will be the Chairman of the new company, said: "It is a great privilege to be able to work with two iconic and respected newspapers with its team of brilliant journalists, and to be part of a plan for the long-term survival of the papers. I wish to ensure their sense of independent and free-spirited reporting continues to thrive. I believe strongly in the value and purpose of serious newspapers."

Alexander and Evgeny Lebedev both paid tribute to the support and commitment that the O'Reilly family have given to the Independent over many years. Alexander Lebedev, who will be a board director of Independent Print Ltd, said: "Tony O'Reilly and his family have been stalwart, innovative and courageous investors who have allowed an important paper to provide some of the most authoritative and remarkable journalism which has rightly won respect and admiration worldwide."

A notice from Dublin-based Independent News & Media plc said it was "pleased to announce the disposal of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday to Independent Print Limited (“IPL”), a company controlled by the family of Mr. Alexander Lebedev. IPL will acquire all rights to The Independent, The Independent on Sunday and the related website,"

The statement continued: "The consideration payable by IPL is £1. As part of the transaction, INM will pay IPL £9.25m over the next ten months for use within the Titles, in exchange for IPL assuming all future trading liabilities and obligations. The disposal is subject to certain conditions, including Irish Competition approval.

"Existing Independent and Independent on Sunday staff will transfer to IPL, who will continue to operate from the current premises in Kensington, London.

"INM and IPL have also entered a new commercial agreement that ensures that all of INM’s market-leading publications worldwide will continue to enjoy full access, in real-time, to the Titles’ award-winning editorial copy.

"Commenting, Gavin O’Reilly, Group Chief Executive Officer of INM said, “This is a most satisfactory and positive outcome for the Titles, their staff and for INM’s shareholders. The transaction will be immediately earnings accretive for INM. After our successful refinancing in late 2009, this transaction marks an important milestone in the repositioning of our Group and will allow INM to focus solely on its market leading, cash generative assets in Ireland, Northern Ireland, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. I wish IPL and the staff every success for the future in continuing the development of these important and influential titles. I believe that the Lebedevs will be progressive and supportive owners of the Independent titles which have played such an important role in British public life for nearly 25 years. I wish them, the Titles and our former colleagues every success for the future.'

"As a result of this disposal, Ivan Fallon, chief executive of Independent News & Media UK has retired from the Group. Gavin O’Reilly commented: 'Ivan has made a significant contribution to INM since he joined the Group in 1994. He first led INM’s very successful investment in South Africa, before taking on the challenges of the UK market, where The Independent led the industry moving to the compact format. We wish him continuing success with his future endeavours.' "

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