Evening Standard investor unveiled as Saudi businessman

Mohamed Abuljadayel’s £25m stake is yet another Middle Eastern interest in UK media

The mysterious offshore purchaser of a stake in the Evening Standard has been unveiled as a Saudi businessman with ties to the country’s state-owned bank.

Sultan Mohamed Abuljadayel bought a third of the news outlet’s parent company from Evgeny Lebedev, the son of a Russian oligarch, for £25m at the end of last year, according to the FT. A spokesperson for the Evening Standard did not dispute that Abuljadayel was behind the purchase, which was made through a company registered in the Cayman Islands.

The confirmation of Saudi investment in London’s main newspaper, which is edited by the former Conservative chancellor George Osborne and distributes 860,000 copies a day for free across the capital, comes as scrutiny is growing of Middle Eastern investments in British media outlets.

Saudi Arabia and its regional allies in the United Arab Emirates are locked in a regional battle with their fellow Gulf state Qatar, with all sides spending substantial sums of money on lobbying and media influence campaigns in London and Washington DC. Concerns have been raised about Saudi investment in media outlets given the country’s weak record on human rights and press freedoms.

Abuljadayel previously bought around a third of the Independent, which is also controlled by Lebedev, two years ago. Since then the Independent has launched an Arabic-language spin-off edition, which operates under the British news outlet’s brand but is edited and run by a Saudi media company with close links to the royal family.

Lebedev has taken an interest in the war in Yemen, posing on Instagram with Saudi-backed militias while accompanying Evening Standard journalists on a visit to the country, which resulted in a lengthy piece on the Middle East conflict in the newspaper.

View this post on Instagram

Birthdays in a war zone. #Yemen 🇾🇪

A post shared by Evgeny Lebedev (@mrevgenylebedev) on

Very little is known about Abuljadayel, a Saudi banker with connections to NCB Capital, a division of a bank ultimately controlled by the Saudi government. He had no track record in the UK media industry before his 2017 investment in the Independent.

On official paperwork, Abuljadayel said he made the first investment in a personal capacity, although at the time it was made clear that his backing was connected to a plan to open Arabic and Urdu-language editions of the Independent.

Abuljadayel’s latest investment in Lebedev Holdings, the Evening Standard’s parent company, was made through a Cayman Islands company, which obscured the Saudi’s role and instead led to feverish speculation about the identity of the investor.

A spokesperson for the Evening Standard said: “Lebedev Holdings Ltd is a private holding company and as such we never comment publicly on our individual shareholders.”

The latest investment brings the Saudi’s total expenditure on stakes in Lebedev-controlled media businesses to about £50m, a substantial investment in the struggling British media industry.

Both the Evening Standard and the Independent were separately sold for £1 each in 2009 and 2010 to the Lebedev family, which is headed by Alexander Lebedev, a KGB agent turned businessman, and his 38-year-old son Evgeny.

Although the Evening Standard remains influential and retains a substantial audience across the capital, its business model is struggling owing to the long-term decline in print advertising. Last year it recorded a loss of £10m.


Jim Waterson Media editor

The GuardianTramp

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