Ronald Lauder Looks to Increase His Stake in Israel's Channel 10 to 45%

TV station seeks to restructure ownership following 11th hour reprieve in December 2012. Yossi Maimon willing to cede control.

After narrowly avoiding closure at the end of 2012, Channel 10's shareholders are now beginning to restructure the station's ownership. Cosmetics empire heir Ronald Lauder, who currently has a 25% ownership stake in the station, is seeking to dilute the other shareholders' stake and increase his interest to 45%. Contacts on the restructuring effort have already begun.

The controlling stake in Channel 10 is currently held by Israeli businessman Yossi Maimon, who has a 51% share. Over the years he has injected more than NIS 600 million into the station. However, in the past two years he halted the flow of funding after encountering financial problems of his own.

Maimon's money troubles are the result of problems at his Ampal firm, which was involved in the sale of Egyptian gas to Israel, and which ran into trouble following the collapse of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's regime in 2011.

Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan has a 24% share in Channel 10, but he stopped injecting funds into the business about three years ago, apparently after reaching the conclusion that he wouldn't be able to get a return on his investment.
Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation has a 9% stake.

For his part, Lauder - who is also president of the World Jewish Congress - has so far invested about NIS 100 million in the broadcasting venture.

In addition, when the future of the station was secured with an extension of its license beyond the end of December 2012, it was based in part on Lauder's commitment to provide the station with an additional NIS 80 million.

Since the other stakeholders did not contribute any more money, Lauder is in a position to demand changes in the station's ownership structure.

The cosmetics heir is represented in Israel by Channel 10 chairman Avi Balashnikov and the station's finance committee chairwoman, Michal Grayevsky.
The primary factor behind efforts to alter the ownership structure was the demand to that effect by the government committee headed by the director general of the Prime Minister's Office, Harel Locker.

The panel demanded the station's ownership reflect Lauder's leading ownership role at the station, although that was not made part of the final terms of the agreement struck with the government. Nonetheless, it has been agreed that the station's leading shareholders would pursue ownership restructuring.

However, that could be a complicated matter, because the law requires that a 51% stake in the station be held by a resident of Israel, and Lauder lives abroad.

Milchan reestablished his residency in Israel in 2009 as a returning Israeli, but his interest in the station is held via a foreign corporation. He is therefore considered a foreign resident for the purposes of the investment.

In the plan to increase Lauder's stake, Maimon - who is prepared to cede a controlling interest - would retain his 51% share due to regulatory requirements.

Under such circumstances, Channel 10 would also try to find a new investor to inject cash into the station, in light of the new lease of life it has received, with its franchise recently extended by 17 years.

At this stage the parties have just begun negotiations, and the shareholders' representatives did not respond to this report. Station chairman Balashnikov said that as the station is not publicly traded, it is not in the practice of providing information about its shareholders' activities.

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