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IRS Auditing Tribune Employee Stock Plan

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CHICAGO — The Internal Revenue Service is auditing a Tribune Co. deal involving its employee stock ownership plan, a major piece of Sam Zell's plan to take his media company private.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported Wednesday that an IRS agent from Wisconsin has filed a statement with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court about the audit.

According to court records, the agent is reviewing the employee stock ownership plan's April 2007 purchase of $250 million in Tribune Co. shares.

At issue is whether or not the purchase is tax-exempt. If the agent finds that it isn't, Tribune could be forced to pay taxes on the exchange.

A spokesman for Chicago-based Tribune told the Sun-Times that the company is aware of the filing and will respond "within the normal framework of the Chapter 11 process."

Tribune Co. sought bankruptcy protection in December.

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