UPDATE 1-Ben Ammar buys Egypt TV channel in expansion drive
By Danilo Masoni
MILAN Dec 5 (Reuters) - French-Tunisian media businessman Tarak Ben Ammar has acquired a TV network in Egypt in a deal worth tens of millions of euros that is the first step to create a pan-Arab media group.
Ben Ammar, who produced 60 movies in three decades and owns North African broadcaster Nessma TV, said on Wednesday his Italian-based holding company had agreed to buy the ONTV network from Egyptian tycoon Naguib Sawiris.
"Today I signed the acquisition of a news network in Egypt from my friend Sawiris," Ben Ammar told a news conference in Milan on Wednesday. "I'm trying to build the first independent pan-Arab television group" with a foothold in Europe.
He said he was eyeing the acquisition of a network in Morocco and was in advanced talks to launch Neesma in France next year.
The Egypt deal with Sawiris, who recently offered to invest in Italy's phone group Telecom Italia, is worth tens of millions of euros, Ben Ammar said.
Stakes in Prima TV, the Italian holding company that controls Neesma along with all his media assets, are owned by former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's Mediaset Broadcaster and Tunisia's Karoui brothers.
Ben Ammar also dismissed speculation he could consider buying the Italian channel of La7 from Telecom Italia Media or enter a partnership with the Mediaset Premium loss-making business of Mediaset.
"I have neither the money nor the desire to buy La7 and Mediaset Premium," Ben Ammar said.
Telecom Italia, of which Ben Ammar is a board member, is trying to sell its unprofitable broadcasting unit Telecom Italia Media as it seeks ways to cut debt.
Some news reports had speculated Ben Ammar might be interested in buying La7.
The businessman also said he would run in an upcoming auction for TV frequencies in Italy and was mulling the creation of a cinema channel in the country. (Editing by Kenneth Barry)
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