Belfast Telegraph

Watchdog looks at INM's abandoned plan to buy Newstalk

By Dearbhail McDonald

The chief executive of Belfast Telegraph publisher INM made a complaint to a company law watchdog under whistle-blowing legislation in the Republic, prompting it to seek records in relation to a possible acquisition of radio station Newstalk.

It is understood the complaint was made late last year, around the time INM issued a statement to the Irish Stock Exchange confirming that an "issue" had arisen between INM chief executive Robert Pitt and chairman Leslie Buckley over the proposed acquisition of Newstalk.

Businessman Denis O'Brien is the largest single shareholder in INM and is the owner of the Communicorp Group, whose assets include Newstalk.

INM is the owner of and also publishes the Sunday Life. In the Republic, it publishes the Irish Independent, Sunday Independent and Evening Herald.

In the statement on November 28, 2016, INM confirmed that an issue arose between its chief executive and chairman in relation to the terms of a possible acquisition by the company.

Yesterday, publishing its full-year results for 2016, INM confirmed that it was complying with a requirement from watchdog the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) to produce records on the company's possible acquisition of Newstalk and related matters that were the subject of an announcement from the company on November 28, 2016.

The ODCE says it does not comment on individual cases.

Mr Pitt declined to comment on the ODCE request beyond a statement issued to the stock exchange yesterday morning by INM.

INM, which reported profit before tax (PBT) growth of almost 12% to €41.8m (£36m), also declined to confirm whether the ODCE inquiry was prompted by Mr Pitt's disclosure.

"The company does not intend to comment further regarding the ODCE's request and the independent review," it said.

In yesterday's statement, INM said it established a formal independent review to examine and inquire into matters concerning the possible acquisition of Newstalk in December, before being contacted by the ODCE.

"Discussions on the possible acquisition ended at a preliminary stage and the acquisition was never considered by the board," INM said.

"The confidential, independent review is being carried out on behalf of the board by senior counsel and a senior independent governance expert who have been mandated to report to the board. The company takes its corporate governance responsibilities very seriously, and seeks to comply at all times with all relevant laws and regulations.

"The company does not intend to comment further regarding the ODCE's request and the independent review."

In its full year results, INM, also reported total revenue of €323.4m (£280m), up 0.7%. INM's shares closed up 9.1% to €0.12 yesterday evening.

Belfast Telegraph