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Billionaire lifts stake in LA Times publisher, exits board

[NEW YORK] Billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong increased his stake in newspaper publisher Tronc Inc, owner of the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, days after other directors decided not to renominate him to the board.

Soon-Shiong boosted his stake in the company to 24 per cent from about 16 per cent, according to a regulatory filing Tuesday. He acquired shares from two other major investors - Oaktree Capital and HG Vora Capital Management- and is the second-largest stockholder behind Chairman Michael Ferro, whose Merrick Ventures LLC owns 24.8 per cent.

The purchases and Soon-Shiong's exit from the board suggest a growing rift between the Los Angeles-based biotech billionaire and the company, which publishes newspapers in nine of the largest big-city markets, including San Diego and Baltimore. In a March 9 filing, the Chicago-based company said a board committee chose not to nominate Soon-Shiong for re-election.

"The work of our compensation, nominating and corporate governance committee is confidential," Tronc said Tuesday in a statement. A representative for Soon-Shiong didn't respond to a request for comment.

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Last May, Soon-Shiong's Nant Capital made a US$70.5 million investment in the publisher, a move seen back then as an attempt to fend off a hostile takeover by Gannett Co. Soon-Shiong became vice chairman of the board, and his Nant Capital gained a 13 per cent stake.

Soon-Shiong became a billionaire after selling two drug companies he founded. He sold APP Pharmaceuticals Inc, a supplier of drugs given through injections and intravenous drips, to Fresenius SE in 2008 for $4.6 billion. He then started Abraxis BioScience, maker of breast cancer drug Abraxane, and sold the company to Celgene Corp. for $2.9 billion.

The biotech entrepreneur ranks 149th on the Bloomberg Billionaire's Index with a net worth of US$8.7 billion.


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