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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EBRD Considering Joining Bid for NTV

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development confirmed Tuesday that it has held talks with a group of Western investors negotiating to buy a stake in NTV television.

"Everything is at a preliminary stage," said an official from EBRD. "And we would consider coming in only at the expressed desire of all shareholders involved."

The official, who asked not to be identified, said the bank was taking a cautious approach toward investing in the channel due to the bitter dispute raging between NTV's parent company Media-MOST and creditor Gazprom-Media. State-owned Gazprom says it wants a stake in NTV that was offered as collateral for a loan, while Media-MOST is claiming that the spat is retaliation from the Kremlin for reporting critical of the government.

CNN founder Ted Turner came forward in the past few weeks with an offer to drum up the funds to pay the debt in return for a stake in NTV and other Media-MOST subsidiaries. Then financier George Soros said Monday that he was interested in joining forces with Turner in the investment.

The two men said they wanted to preserve the independence of NTV.

The Financial Times newspaper reported Tuesday that Soros spoke with EBRD president Jean Lemierre about getting involved with NTV at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The newspaper said that the EBRD may be willing to invest $20 million to $30 million.

Turner has offered $300 million to bail out the channel.

EBRD officials contacted Tuesday declined to give any reasons for their interest in getting involved with NTV. They said that the bank, which was set up in the early 1990s to assist former Communist countries develop free market economies, would have to turn a profit with any deal so such an investment would have to make financial sense.

Media-MOST officials declined to comment, saying that they were taking a wait-and-see approach.

Turner's spokesman in Atlanta had no comment on the developments related to EBRD.

Separately, the Swedish-based media company Modern Times Group has also expressed interest in the stake, the Financial Times reported. Observers said that the company, which is active in the media market of the Baltic states, may be an easier pill for the Kremlin to swallow since it is not a U.S. investor.

This sale of the stake in NTV to a foreign investor was stipulated in a Nov. 17 agreement between Media-MOST and Gazprom meant to settle their dispute over a total of $473 million in debt.

According to the agreement, the stake was to be sold to a "recognized international media investor" for at least $90 million. It included 19 percent of NTV that was earlier transferred to Gazprom as collateral, a little more than 5 percent of Media-MOST and about 0.5 percent of Gazprom-Media, a 100 percent subsidiary of Gazprom.