Luik claims victory in battle for Ekspress Grupp

  • 2001-11-22
  • Kairi Kurm
TALLINN - Having found enough money to buy a 50 percent stake in Ekspress Grupp from the Bonnier Group, media baron Hans Luik on Nov. 15 became sole owner of Estonia's biggest media organization.

The Swedish-owned Bonnier Group, had offered to sell its 50 percent stake in Ekspress Grupp, which it acquired from Luik in 1998, on condition that it could buy Luik's half for the same price if he failed to purchase Bonnier's stake within one month.

"It has been an emotional process," said a well satisfied Luik. "I didn't believe I would make it - I thought something might go wrong with the contract or would not find the funds on time. If I had been one day late and not paid by Nov. 15, I would have lost it all. I am proud to be the owner of the fastest developing media company of Estonia."

Although the price of the sale was not officially revealed the business newspaper Aripaev - Bonnier's only remaining investment in Estonia - claimed Luik paid around 70 million kroons ($4.04 million), of which 50 million kroons were borrowed from Uhispank bank.

Luik said the Aripaev figure was quite accurate, but Lars-Gosta Juhlin, a representative for Bonnier, had earlier denied it.

According to Luik, Bonnier was hoping until the last moment to obtain Luik's shares. Erik Monsson, chief information officer at Bonnier, said the company would benefit from a clearer ownership situation.

"From time to time there are different viewpoints on how to look at the competition and investments," Monsson said "We had other wishes, which were not achievable."

He said Bonnier was planning to keep its investments in business titles in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and St. Petersburg and in its Polish tabloid and magazine and in a Lithuanian TV station.

Luik's decision to sell a stake to Bonnier in 1998 had been necessitated by the purchase by the Scandinavian media company Schibsted of a stake in the competing Postimees, he said. "I could either close the office, place a bankruptcy sign on the door and start to cry, or look for support," he said. He did not expect to make big changes to the company's management, he added.

Ekspress Grupp has 50 percent stakes in an array of Estonian titles and companies, including the tabloid Ohtuleht, the daily Eesti Paevaleht, the Ajakirjade Kirjastus publishing house, Lehepunkt, Expresspost and Eesti Meedia Foto. The company is sole owner of the biggest weekly, Eesti Ekspress, and owns 89 percent of the biggest Estonian printing plant, Printall.

In the first nine months of 2001 the company netted a 2.3 million kroon profit on a 600 million kroon turnover. In 2000 Ekspress Grupp showed a 26 million kroon loss on a turnover of 504 million kroons.