Oz probing CanWest’s stake in Ten

SYDNEY – Canada’s CanWest Global Communications once again is under the spotlight of federal investigators Down Under.

The Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) has admitted it is investigating a series of recent share transactions at CanWest-backed Network Ten to ascertain if breaches of foreign ownership and control of the media had occurred.

That’s because under Australian law, foreign entities are barred from controlling or holding more than 15% voting stock or influence in media interests.

Last December, the ABA ended a two-year public inquiry into the ownership structure of Ten, concluding that CanWest did not illegally control the web, despite holding a 57% economic interest and a 15% voting interest, which it bought from the then financially troubled web’s bankers in late 1992.

Prompting the latest open-ended probe is the early November sale by advertising guru John Singleton of his 5% Ten stake to fellow minority shareholder Leibler Media Holdings and CanWest nominee company Selli Pty. Ltd. for $47 million.

The sale, which reaped a $43 million profit for Singleton, values the now financially recovered web at $950 million.

CanWest was widely considered to have been reluctant to have the shares sold on the open market for fear they might have fallen into unfriendly hands. A shareholders pact gives other Ten stakeholders 30 days to exercise first-option rights to buy shares of parties quitting the web.

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