Monday 18 December 2017

O'Brien hits 29.9% ahead of INM vote

Gay Byrne and Alan Shatter own Indo shares


Nick Webb, Business editor

AS DENIS O'Brien ratcheted up his stake in INM to 29.9 per cent ahead of what may be a stormy AGM, the major shareholders in the listed newspaper group are jockeying for position.

Smaller shareholders could play a hugely influential role in determining the future control of Ireland's biggest and most profitable newspaper and media company.

RTE legend Gay Byrne has been a shareholder since the Nineties, former Paddy Power and Green Property chairman John Corcoran has almost 65,000 shares. The family of the late horse racing tycoon Robert Sangster also owns shares, according to the share register viewed by the Sunday Independent last Friday.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter has been a small shareholder for the last seven years. RTE's Derek Mooney also owns shares in the company. Paul Carty, the former Deloitte managing partner and chairman of the National Pensions Reserve Fund, has also been a shareholder since 2006. Former Sherry FitzGerald chairman Donal Chambers holds almost 53,000 shares worth over €18,500.

Disgraced Anglo Irish Bank chairman Seanie FitzPatrick has also gained from the share price rise of recent weeks. He has been a shareholder in INM for more than a decade.

Former Kerry Group boss and Tourism Ireland chairman Hugh Friel is another small shareholder in the company. Smurfit Group backer Peter Gleeson has held shares since 1977. Gabriel Mangan, who shared close to €51m when his family wholesale business Mangan Bros was bought by BWG, was also on the INM shareholder register. The fantastically wealthy Gemma and Michael Maughan, who own the Citroen franchise for Ireland through their Gowan Motors, were once shareholders. Simon Pratt of upmarket retailer Avoca Handweavers has over 10,200 shares. Tanya Airey's Sunway Travel owns a stake in the company as does Ireland's most expensive private school, Sutton Park.

Marie Mackle, the Department of Finance heroine, who sought in vain to warn the country of the impending crisis, is also listed a shareholder.

INM shares have yo-yoed in the last week following heavy trading in the stock. Last Thursday Denis O'Brien bought about five per cent of the company, through Bloxham stockbrokers. He upped his stake to 29.9 per cent on Friday afternoon.

O'Brien built up his new stake by acquiring Investec's remaining shares in INM. The South African bank had been seeking to sell down its position at prices as low as 25c in the last six weeks but was unable to find a buyer. O'Brien acquired its stake last week at 34.5 cent a share -- a significant premium.

The battle for control of INM, publisher of the Sunday Independent, erupted again in recent weeks, leading to major changes in the boardroom and heightened tensions between the major shareholders. Board member Paul Connolly launched a lawsuit following the compensation package of €1.87m given to chief executive Gavin O'Reilly who stepped down after a "compromise agreement" was reached. This prompted INM chairman James Osborne to ask Connolly to step down from the board, arguing that he was not acting in the company's best interest. Connolly refused and Osborne and the majority of the board are seeking to have him removed through a shareholder vote at the AGM. Connolly's court case will be heard on June 6, two days before the AGM.

O'Brien's move will bolster his position ahead of the key shareholder votes at the INM AGM on June 8. The position of Dermot Desmond could be pivotal as he owns about 6 per cent of the company.

Sunday Indo Business

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