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O'Brien ups ante at INM

IRISH billionaire Denis O&rsquo;Brien was yesterday accused of trying to push Independent News &amp; Media (INM) into administration so he can snap up its Irish titles in a fire sale.<br /><br />The charge came on the day that O&rsquo;Brien &ndash; who owns 26 per cent of INM &ndash; called for an extraordinary meeting to vote on the disposal of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.<br /><br />In addition to the sale of the UK titles, O&rsquo;Brien wants INM investors to vote to remove Brian Hillery as chairman and to abort the planned disposal of its South African outdoor operation.<br /><br />O&rsquo;Brien has been vocal in his frustration at the group&rsquo;s failure to address its debt, branding INM chief executive Gavin O&rsquo;Reilly&rsquo;s proposals for the refinancing of a &euro;200m (&pound;176m) bond as &ldquo;like putting a band aid on a problem that needs major surgery&rdquo;. He has urged for more long-term solutions for the business.<br /><br />But sources close to INM yesterday questioned O&rsquo;Brien&rsquo;s motives, suggesting that he was hoping to drive the group into examinership (the Irish equivalent to administration), an option he has previously said should be considered.<br /><br />&ldquo;That would leave him in a good position to pick up what is left of the Irish titles&rdquo;, including The Irish Independent and The Sunday Independent, they said.<br /><br />O&rsquo;Brien needs to secure 50 per cent approval for his resolutions at the extraordinary meeting, which will be pencilled into the calendar in the next couple of weeks.<br /><br />The closure of The Independent would come as a blow to editor Roger Alton and managing director Simon Kelner, who have both been staunch defenders of its place in the market.