Apax Partners and Goldman Sachs potential buyers

BERLIN — Faced with an IRS bill of some $300 million in unpaid taxes, Haim Saban reportedly is close to selling his ProSiebenSat 1 TV group.

Speculation of an imminent sale has heated up in the past month in the wake of a U.S. Senate investigation into illicit offshore tax shelters that implicated Saban and a number of other U.S. billionaires.

Citing unnamed investor sources, German weekly Focus reported that in view of his sizable tax debt, Saban was looking at a sale of his stake in the group to equity investment firms Apax Partners and Goldman Sachs.

The magazine also reported French TV group TF1 had joined the consortium, but the broadcaster has since denied it was in league with the investment firms for a joint bid.

Apax and Goldman Sachs as well as ProSiebenSat 1 have declined to comment on the report.

Last month the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations grilled Saban on an offshore shelter created to avoid more than $300 million in taxes from his half-interest in the Fox Family Channel — purchased by Disney in 2001 for $3 billion in cash plus the assumption of $2.3 billion in debt — and related properties.

Saban, who told the Senate panel he had paid $50 million for what he understood to be a legal tax-deferral scheme, has said he’s making arrangements with the IRS to pay back taxes.

Earlier this year the Egyptian-born, Israeli-American mogul came close to selling the broadcaster to publishing group Axel Springer for $3.2 billion, but Germany’s antitrust watchdog torpedoed the deal.

Saban’s ProSieben consortium includes Bain, Putnam, Alpine Equity, Providence Equity, Quadrangle, Hellman & Friedman and Thomas H. Lee Partners.

ProSiebenSat 1 operates five free-to-air channels (ProSieben, Sat.1, Kabel 1, N24 and 9Live) and recently launched two pay TV outlets and a video-on-demand service.

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