Former Telegraph owners resist bid to liquidate offshore company

The former owners of The Daily Telegraph have been attempting to stall a court case in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) that would place one of their key holding companies into insolvency proceedings.

Sky News has learnt that the Barclay family has been urging Lloyds Banking Group to postpone a hearing scheduled to take place later on Monday on the basis that the two sides remain in negotiations about the fate of a £1bn debt owed to the high street lender.

City sources said that Aidan Barclay, the former chairman of the Telegraph titles' holding company, had been leading the efforts to have the hearing adjourned.

It relates to the prospective liquidation of Penultimate Investments Holding Company (PIHC), which Lloyds wants to take place in order to facilitate the flow of funds from the impending sale of the newspapers.

A liquidation event at PIHC would also allow Lloyds to sell the Barclays' debt without the family's consent, although there is no suggestion that the bank is keen to pursue such a route.

A spokesman for the Barclays declined to comment on Monday.

The court hearing is to take place just days after the formal launch of an auction of the Telegraph newspapers and The Spectator current affairs magazine.

Sources emphasised that the BVI case bore no connection to the sale process itself, with bidders lining up to receive detailed financial information about the media assets.

Last week, Sky News revealed that the Barclays had tabled a blockbuster £1bn bid to repay the Lloyds debt in the hope that it would prompt the bank to call off the auction.

Lloyds is understood to have rejected the offer in the last few days.

Rival bidders for the titles include the hedge fund billionaire Sir Paul Marshall, the German media giant Axel Springer and Lord Rothermere, the Daily Mail proprietor.

The Barclays' latest offer came weeks after a proposal valued at £725m was submitted to Lloyds, underlining the family's determination to regain ownership of two of Britain's most influential newspapers.

Until June, the newspapers were chaired by Aidan Barclay - the nephew of Sir Frederick Barclay, the octogenarian who along with late brother Sir David engineered the takeover of the Telegraph 19 years ago.

Lloyds had been locked in talks with the Barclays for years about refinancing loans made to them by HBOS prior to that bank's rescue during the 2008 banking crisis.

In recent weeks, key details have emerged of other bidders' efforts to wrest control of the broadsheet titles, with Sir Paul enlisting backing from fellow hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin and advice from the former Daily Mail and General Trust chief executive Paul Zwillenberg.

National World, the listed vehicle run by former Mirror newspaper chief David Montgomery, has hired advisers to work on a bid, while the former Daily Telegraph editor Sir William Lewis has also been canvassing potential backers.

Axel Springer, which publishes the German newspaper Die Welt, has also registered its interest in participating in the auction, which Goldman Sachs has been appointed to oversee.

A sale for the originally mooted valuation of £600m or more would trigger a substantial writeback for Lloyds, which wrote down the value of its loans to the Barclays several years ago.

The debt the family owes to Lloyds is also believed to include some funding tied to Very Group, the Barclay-owned online shopping business.

The sale is being overseen by a new crop of directors led by Mike McTighe, the boardroom veteran who chairs Openreach and IG Group, the financial trading firm.

Mr McTighe has been appointed chairman of Press Acquisitions and May Corporation, the respective parent companies of TMG and The Spectator (1828), which publish the media titles.

Lloyds declined to comment.