Asper bows out of CanWest

Move will avoid conflict of interest as he bids for firm

Leonard Asper has resigned as president and CEO of CanWest Global Communications, the troubled Canuck broadcaster founded by his father.

A statement from CanWest on Thursday said he was stepping down to “avoid any concerns regarding potential conflicts of interest.”

Asper is part of a consortium trying to buy a controlling interest in the Winnipeg-based company, which is under court-sanctioned bankruptcy protection. Members of the consortium include U.S. investment bank Goldman Sachs and Canadian private equity company Catalyst Capital Group.

The group’s initial bid has been rejected by a Canadian judge and the group is considering whether to appeal.

The court has approved a rival bid from Calgary-based cabler Shaw Communications, which has pledged to pay C$95 million ($92 million) to take a controlling stake in CanWest.

But the Asper-Goldman Sachs bid could come back into play because Goldman Sachs is one of the owners of CanWest’s cable-channel division and that will give the giant investment bank leverage to take ownership in the restructured company.

“As the company continues to work through the separate, court-supervised financial restructurings of the publishing and broadcasting groups, it is a natural time for me to move on,” Asper said in a statement.

He became CEO in 1999, two years after his father, the late Izzy Asper, stepped down from the top job.

Leonard Asper oversaw the $2.2 billion acquisition of Alliance Atlantis in 2007, which gave CanWest a slew of cable channels.

But the debt load from that acquisition was one of the main reasons the company ran smack into a financial crisis last year when the economy went south.

Peter Viner, a longtime CanWest exec, has been appointed head of CanWest’s broadcast division.

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