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'Reliance was interested in merger with Zee'

Richest Indian Mukesh Ambani was earlier this year interested in merging Zee with his own media empire, the television giant's largest shareholder revealed Wednesday

Richest Indian Mukesh Ambani
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Richest Indian Mukesh Ambani

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New Delhi: Richest Indian Mukesh Ambani was earlier this year interested in merging Zee with his own media empire, the television giant's largest shareholder revealed Wednesday, but the proposal was dropped following differences over the role of Zee founders. US investment firm Invesco however rejected allegations by Zee that it was resorting to double standards by objecting to a potential merger with Sony Group's India unit with terms similar to those discussed with Reliance.

Ambani's Reliance Industries in a statement said Invesco had in February/March this year assisted in arranging discussions with Punit Goenka, member of the founder family and Managing Director of Zee. "We had made a broad proposal for merger of our media properties with Zee at fair valuations and wanted Goenka to continue as managing director and be entitled to ESOPs along with other management," it said. "However, differences arose between Goenka and Invesco with respect to a requirement of the founding family for increasing their stake by subscribing to preferential warrants. The investors seemed to be of the view that the founders could always increase their stake through market purchases." Stating that the firm respects all founders and had never resorted to any hostile transactions, Reliance said it did not proceed further after this.

Invesco, which owns roughly 18 per cent of Zee via two funds, is locked in a bitter battle with Zee management over its demand for the ouster of chief executive officer Punit Goenka. While Zee alleges that Invesco is trying to take over India's largest-listed TV network at the behest of another company, the investment firm says the Sony deal would enrich Zee's founding family, which includes Goenka, and is seeking a new board.

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