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US Media tycoon John Malone has been in secret talks with the head of NTL, Barclay Knapp, about an investment deal that may result in him becoming the dominant player in the UK cable industry.

Liberty Media, which Malone controls, could acquire between 25 and 51 per cent of NTL, which is involved in a massive debt restructuring programme, The Observer reports.

The paper, which cites anonymous 'City sources', says Malone has met Knapp in Europe to thrash out a deal where he would come into the firm and lenders would swap debt for shares, allowing NTL to halve its £12 billion debts.

Through Liberty, Malone has a 25 per cent stake in Telewest, Britain's other main cable operator. He also owns 19 per cent of News Corporation - which controls satellite operator BSkyB - and has smaller investments in AOL Time Warner and Motorola.

Malone, who is been called the 'Cable Guy' by US papers, built TCI into America's biggest cable operator during the Eighties, prior to selling it to AT&T.

Late last month, NTL appointed Credit Suisse First Boston, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley to advise it on how to refinance its business and cut its debts. There's no official word from NTL on any deal from Malone, and the firm hasn't returned our call requesting comment on the story. ®

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