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UK to probe of UAE-backed takeover of Telegraph

UK Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer has ordered a probe into the proposed sale of the Telegraph Media Gruop
UK Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer has ordered a probe into the proposed sale of the Telegraph Media Gruop - Copyright AFP Pedro PARDO
UK Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer has ordered a probe into the proposed sale of the Telegraph Media Gruop - Copyright AFP Pedro PARDO

The UK government said on Thursday it had triggered a formal probe on public interest grounds into the proposed sale of the Telegraph Media Group to an Abu Dhabi-backed investment fund. 

RedBird IMI announced earlier this month that it was set to take control of The Daily and Sunday Telegraph sister newspapers and The Spectator magazine. 

The joint venture between US firm RedBird Capital and Abu Dhabi’s International Media Investments said it had agreed loans of around £1.2 billion ($1.5 billion) to take control of the parent company of the right-leaning titles.

UK Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said her department had now written to the Barclay family which owns the TMG, and RedBird IMI to inform them that she was issuing a Public Interest Intervention Notice (PIIN) in relation to the deal.

“This relates to concerns I have that there may be public interest considerations… that are relevant to the anticipated acquisition of TMG by RedBird IMI and that these concerns warrant further investigation,” Frazer said.

The decision triggers a requirement for the Competition and Markets Authority regulator to report back to Frazer on “jurisdictional and competition matters” in the deal.

Media regulator Ofcom has been asked to report back to her on “the need for accurate presentation of news and free expression of opinion in newspapers”. 

Both have been given until January 26 to respond.

The Telegraph group has been controlled by twin brothers Frederick and David Barclay for nearly two decades but has been put up for sale over unpaid debts.

Lender Bank of Scotland announced in June that it had appointed a receiver for its Bermuda-based holding company, due to “debts being in default and with no sign they would be repaid”.

RedBird IMI had said a £600-million “package of loans” will fully repay the debts owed, allowing the media group to be taken out of receivership.

The tie-up also intends to exercise an option to convert a further “similar” sized loan — secured against the Telegraph and Spectator titles — into equity.

Redbird IMI, which said it will “co-operate fully with the government and regulator”, is run by former CNN president Jeff Zucker. 

It has said RedBird Capital will “alone” run the titles, but under Zucker’s “leadership”, while IMI will be “a passive investor only”.

But the plans have sparked concern among some lawmakers in the ruling Conservative party, which has long enjoyed a close ideological relationship with the Telegraph titles.   

Some Tory MPs have urged the government to investigate the planned takeover, querying the wisdom of allowing sovereign wealth funds of illiberal countries to buy national newspapers, the Financial Times reported.

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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