KIEV, June 21 (Reuters) - A Ukrainian multi-millionaire, widely seen as close to President Viktor Yanukovich’s family, is buying a local publishing group, tightening the leader’s allies’ control over the media well before a presidential election in 2015.
Serhiy Kurchenko is friendly with the son of the general prosecutor who is himself a Yanukovich appointee, and Yanukovich’s elder son has links with Kurchenko’s VETEK company, local media say.
VETEK and UMH, publisher of the Ukrainian version of the business magazine Forbes, said the deal was signed on June 21. They gave no figure for the transaction.
“The VETEK group of companies and UMH group signed a sales agreement for 98 percent of stock of the media holding,” UMH said on Friday.
“It is planned for the deal to be closed in the first quarter of 2014. Until final closure of the deal, the management of the UMH group will stay unchanged,” it said.
Nearly all television channels, including the Inter channel, One plus One, ICTV and Ukraina, as well as newspapers and magazines are controlled by wealthy businessmen who back Yanukovich.
Inter, Ukraine’s leading television channel, was bought in February by industrialist Dmytro Firtash and Yanukovich’s chief of staff, Serhiy Lyovochkin.
Kurchenko, who owns the FC Metalist Kharkiv soccer club and who earlier this year agreed to buy LUKOIL’s Odessa refinery, said that UMH was the first of future acquisitions he would make in the Ukrainian media sector.
“We are ready to continue investing in Ukrainian media. UMH is one of them. We will develop our existing assets of UMH: Internet, radio, television, publishing and retail businesses, as well as expand their number,” VETEK quoted Kurchenko as saying in a statement.
UMH publishes several magazines and controls more than 15 Internet projects including korrespondent.net, bigmir.net, i.ua and football.ua, six radio stations and a few television channels. (Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Louise Ireland and Richard Balmforth)
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