Speculation over INM London titles after meetings with Russian investor

FRESH speculation has arisen over the future ownership of Independent News & Media’s (INM) two main London-based newspaper titles — the Independent and the Independent on Sunday — after meetings were held with Russian billionaire investor Alexander Lebedev.

Former KGB agent, Mr Lebedev, who is known to be keen to buy into the British newspaper industry, is understood to have recently been meeting a number of players in the sector.

While it is also believed the meeting regarding the Independent titles were informal meetings with newspaper management rather than official talks with INM executives over a sale of the titles, reports in the British press suggest the talks are ongoing and dependent on the outcome of separate talks Mr Lebedev is conducting with Daily Mail & General Trust (DMGT) over its London title, the Evening Standard.

INMs plans to move the offices of its London Independent titles to the DMGT headquarters to reduce costs, would seem entirely coincidental.

INM recently announced that it was looking to cut around 90 jobs from its London titles as part of its group-wide cost cutting plans. Management has always defended the titles and has repeatedly claimed there were no plans to sell them.

Late last year, independent shareholder, Denis O’Brien, repeated calls for the board to sell the two titles instead of making cuts elsewhere. INM had then announced it was considering unsolicited expressions of interest in its 39.1% stake in Australian media group, APN.

Since then, rumours have suggested meetings were held between INM executives and Zac Goldsmith, the politician and son of the late financier, James Goldsmith, with a view to selling the London titles.

INMs cost savings in the Irish market includes plan to implement staff pay cuts of between 5% and 10%, across its titles here — rejected in an initial vote by staff in the Irish Independent.

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