BERLIN — In a marathon eight-hour meeting Tuesday, bankrupt Bavarian media baron Leo Kirch persuaded Axel Springer shareholders to approve a probe into the publishing house’s role in the collapse of Kirch’s media empire.
Kirch, who owns 40% of Springer, blames the publisher’s execs for exercising a $725 million put option on an 11.5% stake in Kirch’s main TV unit, ProSiebenSat 1, earlier this year that pushed the group into insolvency. Springer turned down Kirch’s offer to swap the put option for a bigger stake in the division.
Kirch is targeting Springer CEO Mathias Doepfner and majority shareholder Friede Springer, who he says exercised the put option with the intention of bringing down his company and ridding them of an unwanted minority shareholder in Europe’s biggest newspaper publisher.
Kirch Media, Kirch’s core TV and rights division, filed for insolvency in April, triggering the collapse of the entire group.
Kirch is also demanding compensation for damages, but that will be decided by the courts.
Doepfner rejected Kirch’s claims: “We did everything that was necessary in respect of our company and shareholders. Other shareholders accepted similar exchanges (of put options for larger Kirch stakes). After the insolvency of Kirch Media, they lost everything.”
Springer retains its stake in ProSiebenSat 1, Germany’s biggest broadcasting group, and is looking to increase it. Company is reportedly bidding for Kirch’s remains with fellow publisher Heinrich Bauer.
Kirch’s stake in Springer was appropriated by Deutsche Bank.