Independent News & Media board hits back hard at Denis O'Brien

Independent News & Media board statement accuses rebel shareholder Denis O'Brien of 'apparent personal antagonism'

Independent News & Media has issued a fiercely worded attack on its rebel shareholder Denis O'Brien, warning that his "personal antagonism" could scupper rescue talks with its lenders at a critical stage.

In a combative statement issued to the London and Dublin stock markets late today in response to O'Brien's demand yesterday for a shareholder vote on INM's financial restructuring plan, the board effectively told him to put up or shut up.

The board of the Irish company, which publishes the London-based Independent and Independent on Sunday, said O'Brien had failed to put forward "any credible restructuring proposal" and again invited him to do so.

The statement said of O'Brien: "His apparent personal antagonism towards the board and management and his very public campaign in that regard only serves to damage the trading prospects, staff morale and reputation of INM, and ultimately destroys value in the group and hinders a consensual refinancing solution, outside a court-administered process, being achieved."

O'Brien, an Irish telecoms tycoon, is seeking a second extraordinary general meeting at which shareholders would be able to vote on the rescue plan, which hinges on the sale of INM's South African advertising business and the handing over of INM shares to creditors.

O'Brien, whose 26% stake in the company makes him the second largest shareholder, objects to a change pushed through at INM's annual general meeting in June, which gave the company's directors the power to issue new shares without the approval of shareholders.

INM pointed out today that the resolution was approved by nearly 99% of shareholders, and by O'Brien's representatives, three of whom were appointed to the INM board earlier this year after he negotiated a short-lived truce with Tony O'Reilly, the company's largest shareholder, with a 30% stake.

INM said: "The company has previously noted that it is difficult to see how Mr O'Brien's unilateral actions heretofore assist in the positive resolution of the company's financial restructuring."

"The company notes that Mr O'Brien has been specifically requested to let the company have details of any credible restructuring proposal that he may wish to put forward and that he has to date failed to do so.

"INM again invites Mr O'Brien to put forward a restructuring proposal, capable of winning support of all key stakeholders."

Earlier this month, O'Brien renewed hostilities with INM by demanding an initial EGM to try and force the resignation of the INM chairman and replace the senior independent director. That meeting is likely to be held next month.

He is also calling for the company to close its London offices and for the sale or closure of the Independent titles, an outcome INM seems determined to resist.

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James Robinson

The GuardianTramp

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