Judge clears NBC in Azteca dispute

MEXICO CITY — A U.S. judge has allowed NBC to serve subpoenas on five investment-banking firms handling this week’s international initial public offering of shares in Television Azteca SA, Mexico’s second-largest TV network.

TV Azteca formed a joint venture with NBC in 1994 in an effort to secure programming and break in with advertisers; in exchange, NBC was granted warrants to buy as much as 10% of the company. But in April, TV Azteca disputed NBC’s right to buy, saying the U.S. network had failed to meet conditions in the contract. The networks have submitted the dispute to arbitration.

In documents filed in the U.S. Southern District Court of New York, NBC says it was misled by TV Azteca regarding the timing of the IPO and the value of TV Azteca shares.

The subpoenas seek information on the IPO and TV Azteca’s valuation from lead underwriter Bear, Stearns & Co. and four other investment banks involved in the offering. TV Azteca’s adviser, Violy, Byorum & Partners LLC, has also been served, NBC said.

It is unclear if the subpoenas will disrupt the IPO, but they are certain to raise questions among investors about TV Azteca’s treatment of shareholders. Bear Stearns declined to comment.

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