A mysterious offshore buyer who used a Cayman Islands company to mask his identity as the major shareholder of one of Britain’s most well-known newspaper has been identified as a Saudi investor with close ties to the country’s state-owned bank.
According to the Financial Times, Sultan Mohamed Abuljadayel bought a third of the share of the Evening Standard’s parent company from Evgeny Lebedev, the son of a Russian oligarch, for £25 million ($33 million) at the end of last year.
Little is said to be known of Abuljadayel but the FT confirmed that he bought a similar sized stake in another British paper, the Independent, two years ago. Under the direction of its new owners the paper with a total online readership of 21.1 million each month partnered with Saudi media firm to launch four news portals in Arabic, Turkish, Persian and Urdu.
The deal, announced earlier this year, saw the Independent license its brand to a Saudi Arabian publisher who is reported to have close ties to Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. The young prince, known colloquially as MBS, has come under fire for his alleged link to the brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The FT revealed that Abuljadayel is associated with NCB Capital, the investment banking arm of Saudi Arabia’s National Commercial Bank. The lender is majority owned by the Saudi government
Despite insistence by the Independent that its coverage would not be compromised, the purchase of stakes in the paper in 2017 by a Middle Eastern autocrat was seen by critics as another arsenal for Saudi Arabia’s soft power offensive designed to soften its image across the world.
All parties involved in the second deal; the Evening Standard, Lebedev and Abuljadayel refused to comment on the deal and their efforts to keep the sale hidden has been criticised. Paul Farrelly, an MP who serves on parliament’s digital, culture, media and sports committee, told the FT last month that the Standard’s influential position in London meant it was important “to have honesty about its ownership”.
The Evening Standard, which is edited by the former Conservative chancellor George Osborne, is London’s main newspaper, distributing 860,000 copies a day for free across the capital.