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July 8, 2019updated 30 Sep 2022 8:01am

Evening Standard and Independent owner applies for judicial review against Saudi investments probe

By James Walker

The owner of the Evening Standard and Independent has applied for a judicial review of the Culture Secretary’s decision to open an investigation into Saudi investments in the newspapers.

ESI Media claimed it has “strong grounds” for believing the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport had “failed to follow the correct procedures” and made an “unlawful intervention”.

The application was filed on Friday, a week after Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright told Parliament he had issued an intervention notice against Independent Digital News and Media and Standard publisher Lebedev Holdings after an investor with “strong links” to the Saudi state bought minority stakes in both titles.

The owner of the newspapers, Evgeny Lebedev, sold a 30 per cent stake in Evening Standard parent company Lebedev Holdings to Saudi investor Sultan Mohamed Abuljadayel for around £25m earlier this year.

He also sold Abuljadayel a stake in the Independent two years ago.

An ESI Media spokesperson said the company had on Friday applied for a judicial review of Wright’s decision to issue an intervention notice.

“Both companies have co-operated fully with the authorities, and will continue to do so,” the spokesperson continued.

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“We firmly believe that there are no public interest concerns and have strong grounds for believing that DCMS have failed to follow the correct procedures in this case and have made an unlawful intervention.

“We are therefore very concerned that continuing with the process would involve an unnecessary waste of public money.”

The publisher added that it looked forward to a “swift resolution” of its case.

The Culture Secretary’s decision to intervene will see the Competition and Markets Authority investigate “jurisdictional and competition matters” while broadcast regulator Ofcom probes public interest concerns relating to the accurate presentation of news and free expression.

A judge will review the lawfulness of the decision if the filing by ESI Media is accepted.

In a written statement to Parliament last month, Wright said he believed there were “reasonable grounds to suspect that a relevant merger situation has been created”.

He added: “I have also noted what they [the companies] have told me about protections for editorial independence, including the provisions in their shareholding agreement.

“However, I continue to believe that it may be the case that the public interest considerations of freedom of expression and accurate news reporting are relevant to this merger. I thus consider it appropriate for me to intervene in this matter.”

ESI Media has repeatedly claimed the editorial independence of its titles is protected under the investment deals.

Picture: Reuters/Darrin Zammit Lupi

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