CanWest moves to hike stake in Aussie network

SYDNEY Despite the gaze of Aussie federal investigators, Izzy Asper’s CanWest Global Communications is preparing to increase its stake in Australia’s Network Ten to just over 76%.

CanWest nominee company Selli Pty Ltd. is understood to be on the verge of closing a deal to buy the combined 10% stake of Ten shareholders Robert Whyte and Jack Cowin for about A$ 135 million ($ 107 million).

The sale values the once financially crippled web at $ 1.1 billion and delivers to Whyte and Cowin thumping profits of $ 62 million and $ 51 million, respectively.

This comes just six weeks after John Singleton sold his 5% stake to CanWest’s Selli for a $ 43 million profit.

On Dec. 19, CanWest owner Asper appeared in Sydney for a four-hour interrogation under oath by the Australian Broadcasting Authority, the Australian government agency investigating outright ownership, control of ownership stakes and management control of Ten to ascertain if breaches of laws concerning foreign ownership and control of the media have occurred.

Australian law forbids foreigners like Canada’s CanWest from holding more than 15% of a web’s voting stock and prohibits foreign management control of local stations.

It is understood the ABA is under pressure to deliver its findings by the end of the month, ahead of the early February release of findings from the government’s review of rules pertaining to cross-ownership of media.

If, as tipped by some observers, cross-media rules in media regulations are replaced with competition, the ABA may well lose its investigative powers to rival regulatory body the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

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