11 Dec 2017
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Astro wants to exit NDTV Good Times, makes offer to NDTV to buy out its 49% stake

MUMBAI: Malaysia-based Astro wants to exit NDTV Lifestyle Holdings, the company which runs lifestyle channel NDTV Good Times.

Astro has asked NDTV to buy out its 49% stake in NDTV Lifestyle Holdings, an investment it had made in 2010 for $40 million.

NDTV, however, has declined to exercise the option to buy back Astro’s stake. The offer was made by Astro on 2 June.

Astro owns 49% stake in NDTV Lifestyle through South Asia Creative Assets. The remaining stake is held by NDTV.

NDTV said its board has approved the decision by NDTV Networks, a subsidiary of the company, not to exercise the option to purchase 49% stake held by South Asia Creative Assets in NDTV Lifestyle Holdings.

“The offer was made by Astro vide transfer notice dated 2 June 2017, pursuant to the terms of the subscription and shareholders agreement earlier entered among the company, Networks, LS Holdco, NDTV Lifestyle Ltd, Astro, Astro Overseas Ltd and Astro All Asia Entertainment Networks Ltd,” NDTV said.

Astro also owns 20 per cent in Sun Group-owned direct-to-home (DTH) platform Sun Direct. It is in talks with Anil Ambani’s debt-ridden telecom company Reliance Communications to acquire the latter’s DTH company Reliance Digital TV.

Astro’s investment in NDTV Lifestyle was recently in the news when the BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy had accused NDTV of ‘money laundering’. Swamy had alleged that NDTV’s subsidiary NDTV Networks had $50 million in 2007, which is also the period in which the Aircel–Maxis scam had happened.

As per Swamy’s allegation, the Aircel–Maxis scam relates to the quid pro quo in which Sun TV Network promoter Kalanithi Maran’s brother Dayanidhi Maran had as telecom minister forced Chinnakannan Sivasankaran to part with 74% stake in Aircel to Maxis Communications. Astro, which owns Maxis Communications, in turn invested in Sun Group’s DTH company Sun Direct allegedly as a quid pro quo.

Describing Swamy’s allegation as a ‘blatant lie’, NDTV had said that Astro had invested $40 million for the stake in NDTV’s lifestyle business in 2010.

“This was bona fide FDI made after getting Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) and Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) permissions of the sort that is actively encouraged by the current government. Astro still holds the shares. It was disclosed to all authorities and to the stock exchanges. There is no question of any ‘money laundering’. Nor has the Enforcement Directorate ever made such an allegation to NDTV,” the news broadcaster had said.

Astro’s investment in NDTV Lifestyle was examined by the tax department, which passed a ‘clean order’, thereby accepting the investment as genuine. NDTV further clarified that the enforcement directorate “has not slapped any fine of Rs 2,030 crore on NDTV”.

NDTV also dismissed Swamy’s allegation that most of the people named as ‘directors’ of NDTV Networks Plc were not directors.

“NDTV Networks Plc was a genuine company. All investments in it were genuine investments after taking requisite approvals including from the FIPB,” NDTV said. The news broadcaster further explained that Fuse Media “is not an NDTV company and belongs to a very well-respected private equity investor who is still an investor in NDTV Networks as well as in other Indian media companies”.

Earlier, in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Swamy had sought a probe by the CBI against NDTV. He had also asked for a separate probe by the ED into the allegations of money laundering.

“The TV channel’s top people should be therefore questioned initially by the CBI to find on whose behest the money came to them in the Aircel–Maxis deal, which deal prima facie was illegally approved by former Finance Minister P Chidambaram,” Swamy had said in his letter.