Barons becoming adaptable

The bill unveiled yesterday which bans shareholders of media companies and their relatives from undertaking public contracts through other business interests seems bound to force changes in some of the country’s strong business groups. Besides some well-known magnates in the areas of public projects, arms and other procurements, several smaller contractors and suppliers to the public sector owning stakes of more than 1 percent in media companies will have to transfer them. Much speculation surrounds the future of construction firm Aktor, owned by the Bobolas family, which also owns the daily Ethnos. One scenario is that the family will await the passing of the bill before effecting any changes. The bill, which adds press distribution agencies to previous provisions for media companies, creates additional problems for the group, which is also in distribution. Some contractors and suppliers have already shed media interests. Telecoms equipment maker Intracom’s president Socrates Kokkalis has already transferred family interests in radio station Flash and sports TV channel Magic to a business associate. Thanassis Athanassoulis, of IT group Altec, owned a sizable stake in TV channel Alter through his wife more than a year ago, but has since shed it. Others with media interests affected are the Sarantopoulos family, basic shareholders of construction firm’s Pantechniki, and Thomas Liakounakos, a major arms procurer. Several of the affected businessmen will have to liquidate offshore companies through which they own media interests. According to the draft bill, all businessmen undertaking public contacts worth more than 1 million euros will have to register all the shares of their companies. Many consider that those already affected by previous restrictive provisions will not give up easily. The Bobolas group has already announced its intention to challenge the law at the European Court of Justice. Others are likely to follow suit as they are active in lucrative public procurement segments.