August 7, 2018 / 4:54 PM / 14 days ago

American Tower fights to recover tens of millions from TV Azteca

MEXICO CITY, Aug 7 (Reuters) - American Tower Corp is seeking to recover nearly $97 million from TV Azteca , saying the Mexican broadcaster has defaulted on a loan, according to court papers.

In a case filed in a New York state court, MATC Infraestructura, a unit of cell tower owner and operator American Tower, said TV Azteca failed to make a payment on a loan from MATC and has not indicated it will resume doing so.

In June, state Supreme Court Judge Tanya Kennedy temporarily barred TV Azteca from selling or transferring assets up to the amount sought by American Tower. The total includes $6 million in back interest, American Tower said in its July 31 earnings release.

“Defendants’ own statement and current conduct demonstrate they have no intention of paying MATC,” MATC wrote in court papers reviewed by Reuters. “TV Azteca has been evasive and uncooperative.”

When MATC inquired about a missed payment, TV Azteca’s parent company, Grupo Salinas, said the broadcaster probably would not be able to pay anytime soon, MATC said in the court papers.

The dispute with TV Azteca took a toll on American Tower’s second-quarter results, the company said in its earnings release. During a conference call with analysts, American Tower Chief Executive James Taiclet said TV Azteca had missed two payments, after paying consistently for years.

In recent years, the broadcaster has aimed to reduce its debt. In April, credit ratings agency Fitch upgraded TV Azteca’s outlook to “positive” from “stable,” noting that the company had reduced its net debt by 23 percent in 2017.

“They (TV Azteca) still have relatively high leverage, but solvency is not a pressing issue for the time being,” said Barclays analyst Gilberto Garcia.

TV Azteca, Mexico’s number-two broadcaster, moved to dismiss the case, saying it had not been served properly. The company did not confirm or deny having defaulted on the loan in court papers.

The company is controlled by Ricardo Salinas, one of Mexico’s richest men.

A spokesman for TV Azteca declined to comment on the case. The lawyer listed for TV Azteca in the court papers did not respond to a request for comment.

A spokesman for American Tower refused to comment, and a lawyer for the company did not respond to a request for comment.

Reporting by Julia Love; Editing by Steve Orlofsky

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