Billionaire businessman Johann Rupert has dismissed a column written by Alec Hogg claiming that Rupert is “still smarting from a bust-up 16 years ago with his then pay-TV partner, Naspers CEO Koos Bekker,” and wants revenge.
Hogg, founder of Moneyweb who recently started biznewz.biz, wrote an opinion piece for the Sunday Times arguing that the relationship between Bekker and Rupert had begun in the early 1990s when the latter entered the pay-TV market through Richemont.
In 1991, the group acquired 75% of a Swedish-owned pay-TV business, FilmNet. Bekker had launched M-Net in SA back in 1985.
Hogg stated that M-Net was brought into Richemont’s new pay-TV operation as an equal partner.
The new FilmNet partnership then bought out the former Swedish owner’s remaining 25%, and in 1994 a 50-50 holding company, NetHold was formed, wrote Hogg.
Hogg added that in 1996, Bekker, who had been promoted to CEO of Naspers, “said he no longer wanted to play in Mr Rupert’s sandbox”.
He opined: “A more probable reason was the personalities of these African bull elephants.”
The journalist said that Rupert’s half of NetHold went into Canal+ in return for 15% of the equity. Two years later that stake was sold to Canal+’s parent, Vivendi.
Bekker’s Naspers meanwhile, continued to flourish through Multichoice.
Hogg continued that currently, Remgro, where Rupert serves as a non-executive chair, holds 31.2% of Sabido, the media division of black-owned conglomerate HCI. Sabido has a stake in free-to-air channel e.tv, while its new TV venture, OpenView HD is set to launch in October.
Hogg stated in his article that “for Remgro’s chairman, it is personal. Mr Rupert has waited a long time for revenge. He means to have it.”
Rupert, who is also CEO and chairman of luxury goods company Richemont, said in a letter published in BusinessDay that the article by Hogg was “remarkably devoid of any truth”.
The mega-rich Rupert, who has a reputation as a recluse, said that he and Koos Bekker are friends, and had been for decades — there is no “story”, no “revenge”.
In an e-mail published by Business Day, Rupert wrote:
For someone as informed and normally accurate as Alec Hogg, the article, Rupert intends settling old score with Bekker (September 9), is remarkably devoid of any truth.
Rob Hersov, at the time CEO of Telepiu pay-TV, advised Richemont to sell its stake. Richemont therefore took the initiative and, subsequent to a bidding war between HughesDirecTV and Canal Plus, both Richemont and Naspers sold their holdings in Telepiu to Canal Plus.
Mr Hersov was very prescient — Telepiu finally racked up cumulative cash flow losses in excess of €5.4bn — our share would have been in excess of €2.5bn.… As a 30%-plus shareholder of Canal Plus the former chairman and CEO of Vivendi, Jean-Marie Messier then insisted upon injecting an asset (Pathe) into Canal Plus for new shares. The goal was to dilute our influence.
In the UK and SA that would have been subjected to a shareholder vote, with Vivendi forced to abstain. Not so in France, however.
This led to a big difference of opinion between him and me, which led to him buying us and Naspers out. We were fortunate to get about €68 per share. A year later Vivendi was trading at less than €8 per share.
It is therefore apparent that the “divorce” never occurred as described — we sold out together and at a very good time and price.
After getting an internal rate of return of 25.1% out of the pay-TV investment, Richemont used the proceeds to buy the three watch companies, IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Lange & Söhne.
This has turned out to be a wonderful investment. Similarly, Naspers invested its proceeds with great success. Koos Bekker is and has been a friend for decades — there is no “story”, no “revenge”.
As for Remgro’s investment into Sabido, after our successful co-operation in Vodacom, Johnny Copelyn and Marcel Golding decided to get into TV. We supported their venture as we felt that our children may need a nongovernmental free-to-air channel in the future and that trade unions are democratic institutions.
This has proven to be true. We have no other TV ambitions whatsoever.
It follows that the rest of the story is also fiction.