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Bertelsmann’s RTL to Pull Out of Russia Assets Next Month

RTL Group SA plans to exit its only broadcasting asset in Russia after failing to gain operational control of National Media Group, which holds stakes in three out of the country’s seven most-viewed television channels.

Europe’s biggest broadcaster plans to exercise an option to sell 7.5 percent of NMG on Sept. 16, Luxembourg-based RTL said in a statement on Aug. 22. The fair value of the stake is 81 million euros ($108 million), said RTL, which is controlled by German publisher Bertelsmann SE.

“Generally, we aim to have operational control, or at least there should be a credible path to it,” RTL spokesman Oliver Fahlbusch said by e-mail today on why RTL decided to sell. He declined to elaborate.

Russia is restricting foreigners from controlling assets in strategic industries such as oil and technology. Last year, it blocked Norway’s Telenor ASA from increasing its stake in mobile operator VimpelCom Ltd. to a level exceeding local shareholders. Internet companies Yandex and have corporate rules restricting voting power of foreign shareholders.

NMG, co-owned by Yury Kovalchuk, a billionaire ally of President Vladimir Putin, also holds stakes in daily newspaper Izvestia and a radio news station. RTL swapped its 30 percent stake in Russia’s Ren TV channel into a 7.5 percent holding in NMG two years ago.

NMG increased sales 23 percent last year to 12.1 billion rubles ($368 million), according to its website. This didn’t include Channel One, the country’s main free-to-air television channel, where the group holds a quarter stake.

Oksana Razumova, an NMG spokeswoman in Moscow, declined to comment on the planned sale.

RTL’s content-production arm FremantleMedia has a subsidiary in Russia.

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