Ukraine industrialist and Yanukovich backer buys top TV station

KIEV Fri Feb 1, 2013 10:22am EST

KIEV Feb 1 (Reuters) - Ukrainian industrialist Dmytro Firtash, a supporter of President Viktor Yanukovich, has bought leading TV station Inter for $2.5 billion, the station said on Friday.

Firtash's Group DF bought Inter and other media outlets from a company owned by Valery Khoroshkovsky, who quit as first deputy prime minister in December after criticising Prime Minister Mykola Azarov for slow reforms.

Firtash contributed to the 2010 presidential campaign of Yanukovich, who plans to run for a second term in office in 2015. Firtash has interests in the energy and chemicals sectors.

As in most other ex-Soviet republics, television is far and away the main provider of news for 46 million Ukrainians, but there is no independent public TV channel and almost all TV stations have a wealthy backer.

Securing positive TV coverage is seen by local politicians as key to winning elections such as the 2015 presidential vote.

Inter says it was the most frequently viewed channel among Ukrainian adults last year, and marketing companies such as GfK consistently report it to be one of the top Ukrainian stations by viewership.

Khoroshkovsky's resignation in December was seen as a sign of a rift among Yanukovich's supporters.

"I cannot ensure the development of the group in the current conditions, and this was the main reason for the sale," Inter quoted Khoroshkovsky as saying.

Khoroshkovsky had served as head of the SBU state security service before being appointed first deputy prime minister in 2012. He has also held the posts of finance minister, economy minister and head of the customs service in the past. (Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Hugh Lawson)