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SoftBank, Naver to Take Line Private Through Squeeze Out

Pavel Alpeyev and Takahiko Hyuga

(Bloomberg) -- SoftBank Corp. and Naver Corp. said they would seek to compel Line Corp.’s remaining public shareholders to sell out so the two companies can take the messaging service private.

SoftBank and Naver made a tender offer to buy Line shares, but some investors had resisted the proposal because the 5,380 yen price was thought to be too low. The acquirers now plan to proceed with what’s known as a squeeze-out, a legal maneuver to force the last investors to part with their securities.

SoftBank Group Corp. founder Masayoshi Son wants to combine his Yahoo Japan internet business with Line to create a national champion, with the goal of competing more effectively against global giants like Google and Tencent Holdings Ltd. The combined company aims to spend 100 billion yen ($950 million)annually on development of AI-powered products.

As they announced the proposed deal last November, the two companies said the combination is driven by a sense of crisis that global giants are increasing their grip on the technology industry and countries like Japan risk falling behind. Together, Line and Yahoo Japan, which operates as Z Holdings Corp., will be able to share engineering resources, access broader sets of data and invest more in areas like artificial intelligence, the chief executive officers said at the time.

SoftBank Corp., the domestic wireless unit of Son’s empire, said 31.2 million shares, including 1.09 million share certificates, were tendered in the joint bid with Naver. They had said it could purchase up to 88.3 million shares.

Line shares are little changed for the year at 5,370 yen.

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