Milan, Italy -- A series of mysterious meetings that have
taken place between media magnates Leo Kirch, Rupert Murdoch, Silvio Berlusconi and Saudi
Prince Al Waleed may result in their investing in Kirch's major media-holding group,
The latest summit meeting of the media giants took place
Sept. 9 in Munich, Germany, reportedly to finalize a plan to partially sell off
German-based Kirch's debt-ridden Taurus.
Stock-market sources said Kirch intends to float a 40
percent stake in Taurus on the major stock markets and to sell a further 25 percent to the
Murdoch/Berlusconi/Al Waleed trio.
Kirch will reportedly retain a minority stake of 35
percent, but he will remain the largest single stockholder. The same sources claimed that
the 25 percent stake will be split 13 percent for Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. and 10
percent to 11 percent for Berlusconi's Fininvest Group, with the remaining 1 percent
to 2 percent taken up by Al Waleed.
The partial-floatation/sell-off strategy is reminiscent of
so-called Project Wave, which bailed out Berlusconi's debt-laden Mediaset
media-holding group in 1996.
Kirch's strategy is expected to raise at least 5
billion deutsche marks ($US2.94 billion) to pay off some of the Taurus group's large
debt load and to reinvest in digital-TV projects. Last year alone, Taurus recorded losses
of more than DM3 billion ($US1.76 billion).
In a separate deal that could be brewing, Murdoch was
spotted last week visiting Mediaset's headquarters here -- Berlusconi's
Fininvest owns a 50.6 percent stake in Mediaset -- heightening growing speculation that
News Corp. is negotiating to buy a stake in the Italian TV empire.
A meeting with Mediaset president Fedele Confalonieri was
followed by a lunch appointment between Rupert Murdoch and Berlusconi's children,
Marina and Piersilvio, at their father's villa. Marina and Piersilvio are both
executives in Mediaset. Press reports said they convinced their father not to sell a
substantial stake in Mediaset to News Corp. during negotiations earlier this year. Murdoch
then met Silvio Berlusconi on his yacht in Porto Rotondo, Italy.
Mediaset has denied that the meetings involved the sale of
any stake in the company, but it has acknowledged that the talks involved a significant
realignment in European TV, with the possibility of a major international alliance.
The talks are also reported to involve the formation of a
new European soccer "superleague," including 30 of Europe's biggest teams.