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September 13, 2019updated 30 Sep 2022 8:20am

Government won’t appeal ruling which stopped full probe into Saudi investments in Standard and Independent

By Charlotte Tobitt

The Government will not appeal a ruling which has stopped it from ordering a full investigation into Saudi investments in the Evening Standard and Independent newsbrands.

The Competition Appeals Tribunal ruled last month that the Government had missed the deadline to force an investigation.

ESI Media, which represents both the newsbrands, said it was “delighted” by the decision and called the proposed investigation “disproportionate” and “unfair”.

The Government originally had until 6 September to decide whether it would appeal the decision, but was given an extra week due to the potential difficulties of taking instructions during the summer holidays.

A DCMS spokesperson said today: “After considering Ofcom’s and the CMA’s reports on this case, the Secretary of State has decided not to appeal the tribunal’s decision.”

Jeremy Wright was Culture Secretary when the Government first intervened in June, but Nicky Morgan has since taken over the role under Boris Johnson.

Press Gazette understands both reports will be made public for the first time next week.

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Wright had asked the CMA to investigate “jurisdictional and competition matters” and broadcast regulator Ofcom to look at the public interest considerations relating to the accurate presentation of news and free expression.

He issued an intervention notice against Standard parent company Lebedev Holdings and Independent Digital News and Media in June after an investor with “strong links” to the Saudi state bought shares in both companies.

Proprietor Evgeny Lebedev (pictured) sold a 30 per cent stake in Lebedev Holdings to Cayman Islands company International Media Company for around £25m between December 2018 and February this year.

IMC has two issued shares, one owned by Saudi investor Sultan Mohamed Abuljadayel and one by Wondrous Investment Holdings, a limited partnership in which the Saudi-based National Commercial Bank has voting rights.

Lebedev also sold Abuljadayel and Wondrous a 30 per cent stake in the Independent two years ago via another Cayman Islands company, Scalable.

ESI Media fought the Government investigation by applying for a judicial review of the decision, claiming the DCMS had “failed to follow the correct procedures” and made an “unlawful intervention”.

Mr Justice Roth subsequently backed the publisher, saying that although the intervention notice was issued in time, a four-month time limit for the Culture Secretary to order a full investigation expired on 1 July.

An ESI Media spokesperson said: “The tribunal agreed with us that the deadline to make a ‘phase two’ reference to the CMA expired on 1 July and we are pleased to have resolved this issue.

“There are no public interest concerns arising from these investments as editorial independence and freedom of expression have always been, and continue to be, critical to our publications.”

Picture: Reuters/Neil Hall 

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