Pinera plays the anti-Berlusconi role with web sale

When billionaire businessman and media mogul Sebastian Pinera became Chile’s president Jan. 11, it was inevitable comparisons would be made with Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s billionaire prime minister who controls the Mediaset broadcast group.Bloomberg News

Berlusconi is constantly fighting critics who see his ownership of Mediaset as a conflict of interest — charges he denies, saying that the biz is now run by his son Piersilvio.

Pinera faced similar accusations.

He had pledged early in his election campaign to sell his $1.5 billion stake in flagship airline LAN, something he quickly did.

But the entrepreneur couldn’t hide his soft spot for TV network Chilevision (CHV), the country’s third-rated terrestrial web.

Pinera purchased CHV in 2005 for proximately $24 million, guiding it to a net profit of $15 million last year.

During the election, Pinera had promised to either sell CHV or transfer ownership to a nonprofit organization, but he was slow to do so once his Coalition for Change was in office.

Pressure to sell CHV increased this month after Pinera appointed a new CEO to pubcaster Television Nacional, the country’s top-rated network and a rival to CHV, and announced the new directors of the National Television Council.

Politicians of all stripes criticized the obvious conflict of interest.

However, unlike Berlusconi, Pinera surprised industryites by announcing May 15 he had sold CHV for a reported $130 million to local investment fund Linzor Capital. The sale is expected to go through in mid-July.

He also has confounded critics by suggesting the possible sale of state-owned newspaper La Nacion, which he dubbed a propaganda tool of the government.

“If I wanted to favor my interests, I wouldn’t be president,” Pinera said in early May.

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