UK government says Saudi 'state-linked' investment in Evening Standard, Independent has national security implications
The British government has raised concerns over the purchase of large stakes in the Evening Standard and the Independent by a Saudi investor, accusing the London-based news outlets of being part owned by the Saudi state using "clandestine" methods.
Saudi investor Sultan Mohamed Abuljadayel reportedly used an offshore company based in the Cayman Islands to buy 30 percent stakes in the publications, both controlled by Russian businessman Eugeny Lebedev, The Guardian and Financial Times reported earlier this year.
The British culture secretary Jeremy Wright in June announced an investigation into the sale, raising fears that Saudi Arabia could have gained influence over the editorial line of the major British publications.
On Tuesday, the British government's legal representative David Scannell told a court hearing that the sale has "national security implications" as Riyadh could exert editorial influence over the news outlets.
"What is of concern to Her Majesty's government is that a foreign state could be acquiring a substantial stake in Lebedev Holdings [owner of the Evening Standard] and the Independent simultaneously," he said, according to The Guardian.
The Independent has launched alongside foreign-language websites in Persian, Turkish and Urdu an Arabic version staffed by Saudi editors, but journalists have expressed concern over its editorial freedom.
The editor of The Independent Arabic, which launched in the last week of January this year, is London-based Saudi journalist Adwan al-Ahmari, who has defended Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on the record and who even denied the death of Jamal Khashoggi in Arab and Western media outlets, up until Saudi government confirmation.
Russian businessman Lebedev has close ties to Saudi Arabia and posted a picture on his Instagram account last year with Saudi-backed forces in Yemen while accompanying an Evening Standard reporter.
The Evening Standard and the Independent both insist concerns over editorial independence are unfounded, and Lebedev’s lawyers are fighting to stop the UK from investigating the Saudi investment.
Some suspect the Saudi media investment is part of government-linked efforts to improve Riyadh's image in Western media.
The Saudi government, and its de-facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, have come under fire for human rights abuses, including the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year.