Temasek close to selling part of Shin: sources

AFP, Reuters
9 Mar 07

New acting iTV chief quits after less than 24 hours

Singapore investment company Temasek Holdings is close to selling some shares in telecoms group Shin Corp to Thai investors, financial sources said, in a move to defuse political tension over the purchase.

‘It should be very soon,’ one source, who declined to be identified, told Reuters.

‘Temasek has been negotiating with Thai investors for some time.’

The Thai-language Matichon newspaper, citing a source close to Temasek, said the share sale would be announced by the end of March to help ease rising political tensions since Temasek’s US$3.8 billion takeover of Shin Corp last year.

The newspaper gave no details of the transaction.

Temasek officials have previously declined to comment on the speculation about its Shin Corp holdings.

Shin Corp’s 53 per cent-owned television channel iTV was seized by the army-installed government on Wednesday after a prolonged legal battle over unpaid fees and fines.

And yesterday, the man tasked with running the television station quit his job after less than 24 hours, saying he had become the target of political attacks.

Jeera Hongladarom was appointed new acting director after the government took over the station, which has been renamed TITV.

The iTV station was taken over after it failed to pay US$2.8 billion in court ordered fines and back fees.

And it is now being run by an arm of the Prime Minister’s office.

Mr Jeera quit yesterday, after Thai newspapers reported that he had filed for personal bankruptcy.

‘I decided to quit to avoid letting this issue become politicised,’ he told reporters.

The government is in the process of taking the station’s equipment and moving it to studios already run by the government.

iTV was Thailand’s only private broadcaster, with Temasek holding a stake of nearly 53 per cent.

Analysts say Shin Satellite could be next after coup leader General Sonthi Boonyaratglin accused Singapore of spying and said he wanted the four satellites back as a matter of national security. The firm denied the charge.

Analysts say Temasek also wanted to dilute its holdings in Shin Corp to help boost the stock’s free float, which dropped to 3.7 per cent after the takeover.

It temporarily shelved the share sale plan in November due to uncertainty about ownership rules following the coup.

Financial sources said at the time that Temasek was expected to sell up to 46 per cent of Shin Corp to reduce its aggregate holding in the telecoms firm to 49 per cent.

The Shin Corp investigation is centred on Kularb Kaew, a holding company set up as part of Temasek’s takeover of Shin Corp.

The key question is whether Kularb Kaew, controlled by a Malaysia-based Thai who was a partner in the takeover, is a Thai company or a Temasek nominee.

Army-appointed graft busters are also scrutinising the Shin Corp sale as part of a wider probe into corruption allegations against deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his Cabinet.

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