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Irish Firm Sells S. African Newspapers For $227M

By JON GAMBRELL

JOHANNESBURG (AP) â¿¿ An Irish media company has sold off its newspaper group in South Africa, including The Star and newspapers in Cape Town, to a local investment group for $227 million, the firm has announced.

Dublin-based Independent News & Media PLC said the sale, which would require approval from its shareholders and regulators in South Africa, would see its newspapers and other holdings go to a consortium led by Sekunjalo Holdings. That investment firm, with investments in some 70 private and public companies, is led by executive chairman Iqbal Surve, a doctor who once gave medical aid to political prisoners released from Robben Island at the end of the apartheid era.

In a statement issued late Sunday night, Independent News & Media said the deal also required a final agreement signed by both parties. The company declined to elaborate further on terms of the deals.

Independent News & Media's South Africa portfolio includes the Johannesburg-based The Star newspaper, a leading daily with a circulation of some 105,000 copies, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations of South Africa. It also includes The Pretoria News and the Cape Times and the Cape Argus, as well as weekly newspapers. The company is the largest newspaper company in the country, Independent News & Media has said, and includes the popular website and portal IOL.

The Star's Monday edition quoted Surve as saying that he had a strong personal commitment to editorial independence and that the newspapers would "reflect the views of everybody and ... must support democracy and the growth of the economy."

"I am delighted that I have the opportunity to bring these newspapers, this national asset, back to South Africa," Surve said.

Rumors have swirled for months that Independent News & Media would sell off its South African newspaper group. The Irish company bought the newspaper chain in the mid-1990s from Anglo American, a major mining company in South Africa. In 2011, the company's South Africa portfolio announced an operating profit of $50 million, though it acknowledged a downward trend in newspaper circulation. Overall, Independent News & Media announced a $100 million operating profit for 2011, down 8.6 percent from the year before.

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