Boardroom battle in prospect at JP as investor bids to oust chairman

Christen AgerA Norwegian businessman who owns 12.6pc of Johnston Press is bidding to become the company’s chairman, promising a radical shake-up of its business model if successful.

Christen Ager-Hanssen, left, has accused the publisher’s board of being “paralysed by fear” and criticised its decision to ask bondholders to set up a committee to discuss refinancing its £200m debt.

Mr Ager-Hanssen has confirmed to Sky News that he intends to seek the removal of the group’s interim chairman, Camilla Rhodes, and install himself in her place.

However JP sources have pointed out that Ms Rhodes and the rest of the Board were recently endorsed by 99pc of the company’s shareholders at its annual general meeting in May.

According to Sky, Mr Ager-Hanssen plans to write to the Board in the coming days to requisition an extraordinary general meeting (EGM).

He told the broadcaster that the 2019 deadline for refinancing Johnston Press’s bonds was “hanging over [board members] like the sword of Damocles.”

“The answer to a successful debt refinancing lies in a successful equity story. In its fear, the board seems to have forgotten this, and as such has put the interests of shareholders behind,” he said.

“Rather than a strategic review of the refinancing or organising ad hoc bondholder committees, what Johnston Press needs is a radical shake-up of its business model – and that is what I will do.”

Mr Ager-Hanssen’s investment vehicle Custos is now the second-biggest shareholder in JP with 12.6pc of the group.

Key to the outcome of any boardroom battle will be the attitude of its largest investor, Crystal Amber, which has an 18pc stake in the publisher.

Earlier this week, JP announced it was approaching its largest bondholders about the potential formation of an ad hoc committee to negotiate with the company about the terms of refinancing.

“We are making good progress on our strategic review and this is an important step in moving things forward, in discussion with all our stakeholders,” said chief executive Ashely Highfield.

Johnston Press has declined to respond to Mr Ager-Hanssen’s comments or to comment on the Sky News report.

A source close to the media company pointed out that all of its board directors received the “firm endorsement of shareholders at May’s annual meeting, with over 99pc of the vote.”