Deadline looms for Telegraph takeover offers

THE clock is ticking for hopeful bidders in Hollinger International’s £550 million-plus sale of the Daily Telegraph as a deadline looms this week.

The bidders have been given until Thursday to submit firm bids for the title, which was put up for sale after a bitter dispute between its owner, Hollinger International and then chief executive Conrad Black. The deadline was confirmed in a memo from interim chief executive Gordon Paris to Hollinger employees. But whether the Telegraph will be sold on its own or as part of a sale of the entire Hollinger group remains unclear. Sources close to the situation say investment bank Lazard, which is running the sale, is waiting to see bids next week before consulting with Hollinger's board and making a final decision.

"Next Thursday is the really interesting time," said one source close to the situation. "They'll look at those (Telegraph) proposals alongside the proposals for the entire company and do an analysis of the two possible routes."

If the decision is made to sell the Telegraph on its own, the list of potential hopefuls will be "significantly slimmed down," said another source, with those remaining going through to a final round to battle it out. Among those hoping to make it onto that list are newspaper owner Daily Mail & General Trust, venture capitalists 3i Group, a joint effort between buyout firms Apax and Candover Investments Plc, and British entrepreneurs the Barclay brothers.

Initial offers valued Britain's top-selling broadsheet at up to £600 million, but based on preliminary profit figures for the Telegraph, bids could go higher.

The other, less likely option is that Hollinger decides to sell the company and its assets, which also include the Chicago Sun-Times and Jerusalem Post, as a whole.

At least two groups US buyout giant firm Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts and Co, and a joint effort from German publisher Axel Springer, private equity group Hellman and Friedman and media mogul Haim Saban have registered their interest in the whole group.

Sources say Springer really only wants the Telegraph, but is willing to team up to buy the whole company and split it up later.

"It's been an incredibly complicated situation for well over six months now ... but things are gradually becoming clearer," a source close to one of the bidders said.

One of the problems slowing the auction has been public mud-slinging between Hollinger and Black over disputed payments to him and other executives.

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