NATIONAL Security Minister Jack Warner is holding discussions with the Chookolingo Group with a view to acquiring its shares in the TnT Mirror and potentially, its shareholding in the Newsday newspapers as well.
Chookolingo Holdings owns 100 per cent of the Mirror and is the largest single shareholder of Newsday with a 39 per cent ownership stake in the daily newspaper.
Asked by the Sunday Express to respond to credible reports that he had made overtures to the Chookolingo Group, Warner yesterday confirmed that he had met with Pedro Chookolingo at 5 a.m. one morning.
Sources said the meeting took place last Wednesday.
Sources also told the Sunday Express that the 16 shareholders in Chookolingo Holdings are desirous of selling their shares.
Questioned about the nature of the meeting, Warner said at the meeting with Chookolingo the question of purchasing the shares in both the Mirror and Newsday, both of which are available (for sale), was discussed.
The Mirror had been leased to journalist, Maxie Cuffie, but that lease is due to expire on Friday.
Warner said he expressed an interest in purchasing the Mirror shares for the time being but indicated to Chookolingo that if the Newsday shares were available "at the right price" he was also interested in acquiring them. "And I said to him that I needed to see the financials. I have been promised this information and when it comes I will decide," Warner said.
The financial information he is seeking is the Mirror's 2009 and 2010 financial statements and the Newsday's financial statements for the last three years. He said he needed these documents to determine what was a fair price.
In response to a question, Warner stressed that he represented no one but himself in this discussion.
"I have spoken to no one about this," he said.
He added however that he was confident that he could galvanise support from other parties for his proposal. He said he was due to meet with his business manager on the issue. Warner however did not want to reveal any more about the discussions, since he said he did not want to "frustrate" them (the discussions).
"And I want to repeat this: This information, you got it. I did not give it to you," he said, having earlier expressed surprise that the Sunday Express had found out about the meeting between himself and Chookolingo.
"I didn't want to say 'no comment' (when asked about this matter) because that is not my style. Neither do I duck calls," he said.
Asked whether as an important member of the Government and chairman of the ruling party, his interest in owning a significant stake in two media houses was commercial or political, Warner said: "For the time being the interest is purely commercial. But if it becomes political, that would have to be a subsequent matter. I don't rule it out."
Asked whether given the nature of his portfolio (National Security) whether there might be concerns in an acquisition of significant holdings in the media, Warner said he was also chairman of a party.
"I see no conflict. I have not discussed this with anyone, including any political individual," he said.
Warner had previously expressed an interest in acquiring shares in the media. He admitted that in the past he was interested in purchasing the Blast newspaper but when he looked at the equipment and so on, the investment was not deemed to be worth it.
Sources said the matter has not yet reached the board of directors of Chookolingo Holdings, the entity which controls all the shares.
Attempts to reach chairman of the board, Dawn Ford were futile. Sources also said before any shareholder can sell his/her shares, he/she must get the support of a certain number of all the shareholders.
The Express, which is quoted on the stock exchange, is owned by One Caribbean Media, which represents a number of private sector organisations and individuals, while the Guardian, which is also quoted on the exchange, is owned by the ANSA McAL Group. The Newsday, which is not a public company and therefore not quoted on the stock exchange, is entirely in private hands.