Soon-Shiong said on Friday he abstained in the controversial vote on whether hedge fund Alden Global should take over Tribune Publishing.
In fact, he left his proxy ballot blank for his 24% stake in Tribune, sources said. This means his “abstention” was counted as a “yes” when it was sent out on Thursday night.
The apparent deception is attracting fire in the publishing world, which has been riveted for months on the drama playing out for the publisher’s property of nine subway dailies, including the Baltimore Sun and the Hartford Courant, and ‘other small newspapers.
A source called him “the second most despised man in newspapers today behind Heath Freeman” – the chairman of Tribune’s new owners, Alden Global Capital, who is now the second largest newspaper owner in the country.
Soon-Shiong could have gone bankrupt had he written “abstain” on his proxy, as only non-Alden shareholders were allowed to vote and the takeover required two-thirds of the votes cast.
By leaving this field blank, the special four-member non-Alden committee was able to count its vote as a “yes”.
“He knew exactly what he was doing,” said Ken Frydman, former public relations spokesperson for the Daily News “who had to vote yes by” abstaining “. “
Soon-Shiong paid $ 15 per share for its stake in 2016 with the goal of acquiring the Los Angeles Times. Alden, who already controlled a 32% stake in Tribune, agreed to pay $ 17.25 for shares he does not already own.
The only board member to oppose the deal was Tribune CEO Terry Jiminez, who was quickly fired from his $ 517,000-a-year job (not including an additional $ 1.7 million in bonuses). shares acquired) shortly after the successful takeover of Alden.
Oddly, Soon-Shiong was quoted in a Washington Post article the day before the May 21 vote, saying he forgot that the vote was scheduled for the next day.
He also said he would listen to his advisers and then vote. But as a source who had worked with him noted, “he’s not the type of guy who takes advice from advisers.”
Another source who knows how health billionaire Soon-Shiong runs his businesses, said he was out of the question that his blank vote would pave the way for Alden’s takeover. “He made a lot of money selling state-owned companies,” the source said.
Soon-Shiong released the statement on his “forbearance” through press contact for the Los Angeles Times, the newspaper he bought with the San Diego Union Tribune for $ 500 million in 2018.
Some critics have also questioned this decision. “That the guy [Soon-Shiong] using the PR person to spread lies in a newspaper is totally inappropriate, ”the source said.
The statement released Friday by LA Times spokeswoman Hillary Manning, shortly before the deal was announced, said. “Dr. Soon-Shiong abstained from voting. In recent years, Tribune Publishing has been a passive investment, as it has remained focused on the leadership roles it occupies in its businesses. When he made that investment in 2016, he was hoping it would be a route to local newspaper ownership in Southern California. In 2018, he and his family were proud to acquire the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune from Tribune Publishing, creating the California Times. Their goal is and will be to continue to rebuild and revitalize The Times and Union-Tribune. ”
Manning did not respond to requests for comment.
Soon-Shiong is expected to raise around $ 160 million through his stocks at a time when the LA Times is losing $ 50 million a year.
But that hasn’t stopped some observers from wondering if he perhaps missed a chance for an even bigger return. “If Alden hadn’t got the deal, it’s doubtful, they would have taken their ball and gone home. They would probably have come back with an even better offer, ”said one observer.