Springer Wins Court Backing in Kirch Cash Clash

19 December 2002

German newspaper giant Axel Springer’s prolonged fight to retrieve a €767 million ($787m; £491m) debt from defunct media empire Kirch Gruppe has won judicial support.

The sum in question is the amount Kirch was supposed to pay for Springer’s stake in broadcast group ProSiebenSat.1 under an option the newspaper firm exercised in January [WAMN: 31-Jan-02]. In depressed market conditions, the actual value of the stake was (and is) a mere fraction of €767m.

Kirch has been looking for a way out of the payment ever since, arguing first that Springer had invalidated the option, and then that the insolvency filing of its KirchMedia unit made the claim void.

However, a Munich court has ruled in favour of Springer, declaring that the claim remains legally valid.

That may not be the end of the matter. Springer also holds an option to buy 16.5% of ProSieben in the event that KirchMedia sells its 52.5% stake (as it is in the process of doing to rival publisher Heinrich Bauer).

Springer has offered to withdraw its claim on the €767m in return for this 16.5% holding (worth around €220m), which would give it a total stake in ProSieben of 28%.

The duo are still in talks on the matter. Springer argues the onus is on Kirch to settle, so that Bauer knows whether or not it is buying a majority stake, while Kirch claims the outcome is immaterial since Bauer will own at least 72% of voting rights in ProSieben regardless.

Breaking news: Fresh comments by Springer suggest it will abandon attempts to increase its holding in ProSieben and sell its existing 11.5% stake to exit the TV market.

“We will in the future concentrate exclusively on our core business: print media and what one can do with it using digital distribution channels,” Springer ceo Mathias Döpfner has told Spiegel magazine.

Data sourced from: Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff