In­de­pen­dent no more? Saudi sul­tan buys stake in ex-pa­per

The Sunday Telegraph - Money & Business - - Business - By Sam Dean

A MYS­TE­RI­OUS Saudi in­vestor has pur­chased a sig­nif­i­cant stake in the

In­de­pen­dent, the for­mer na­tional news­pa­per that last year moved all of its op­er­a­tions on­line.

Sul­tan Muham­mad Abul­ja­dayel, 42, is thought to have taken a 30pc stake in the on­line news­pa­per, which pub­lished its last printed edi­tion in March 2016.

The move means that Evgeny Lebe­dev, the owner of par­ent com­pany ESI Me­dia, which also owns the Evening

Stan­dard, now holds a stake of less than 50pc in the ti­tle, with more than 25pc also held by Justin Byam Shaw, the chair­man of ESI Me­dia.

The In­de­pen­dent said the in­vest­ment by Mr Abul­ja­dayel, who ap­pears to have no other busi­ness in­ter­ests in the UK, will al­low the on­line news­pa­per to “flour­ish into the fu­ture”.

How­ever, the move will raise ques­tions about the in­de­pen­dence of the web­site, which was known for its lib­eral stance as a news­pa­per be­fore mov­ing on­line-only fol­low­ing years of fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties.

In re­cent weeks, Saudi Ara­bia has de­manded the clo­sure of Qatar-based broad­caster Al-jazeera amid ris­ing ten­sions in the Mid­dle East.

Al-jazeera said the at­tempts to shut it down were “noth­ing but an at­tempt to end free­dom of ex­pres­sion in the re­gion”.

An In­de­pen­dent spokesman in­sisted the web­site’s ed­i­to­rial in­de­pen­dence has been “for­mally pro­tected by a new agree­ment be­tween the share­hold­ers”.

The spokesman added: “To se­cure fur­ther strate­gic growth for the In­de­pen­dent, In­de­pen­dent Dig­i­tal News and Me­dia Ltd has ex­panded its in­vestor base to in­clude a mi­nor­ity share­hold­ing by Sul­tan Abul­ja­dayel. The new in­vest­ment and the guar­an­tee of ed­i­to­rial in­de­pen­dence will al­low the

In­de­pen­dent to flour­ish into the fu­ture.”

Ac­cord­ing to Amol Ra­jan, the last newsprint ed­i­tor of the In­de­pen­dent who is now the me­dia ed­i­tor of the BBC, Mr Abul­ja­dayel is not a mem­ber of the Saudi gov­ern­ment or royal fam­ily. The 42-year-old comes from a fam­ily with a large in­ter­na­tional prop­erty port­fo­lio, and will not have a seat on the com­pany’s board. An­nounc­ing last year that the In­de­pen­dent would cease print­ing, Mr Lebe­dev said the de­ci­sion to move the en­tire op­er­a­tion on­line “pre­serves the

In­de­pen­dent brand and al­lows us to con­tinue to in­vest in the high-qual­ity ed­i­to­rial con­tent that is at­tract­ing more and more read­ers to our on­line plat­forms”.

Kick-off BT and Sky are ready to take to the pitch for TV rights to Foot­ball League matches. It is un­der­stood that rights to the EFL Cup, for­merly the League Cup, may be sold sep­a­rately.

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