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Saudi investor buys £25m stake in Evening Standard: Report

Sultan Mohamed Abuljadayel already holds a significant stake in the UK's Independent online newspaper
The Evening Standard on the eve of the June 2017 general election in Britain (AFP)

A Saudi investor, who has already ploughed millions into a prominent British online newspaper, has bought a £25m stake in the company which owns the Evening Standard, the Financial Times has reported.

Sultan Mohamed Abuljadayel reportedly bought a 30 percent stake in Lebedev Holdings, the parent company, headed by Russian businessman Evgeny Lebedev, which owns the free newspaper distributed in London and edited by former UK chancellor George Osborne.

According to the Financial Times, Abuljadayel made his purchase using a Cayman Islands company to hide his identity and bought a stake more than a third larger than company filings disclosed in December with a final portion agreed last week.

In 2017, Middle East Eye broke the news that Abuljadayel had bought as much as a 50 percent stake in the Independent, a news organisation bought by Lebedev’s father, Alexander, who is a former KGB officer.

Little is known about Abuljadayel. A well-informed Saudi source has previously told MEE that he is from an established business family based in Medina.

The FT reports that he is associated with NCB Capital, the investment banking arm of the kingdom’s government-owned National Commercial Bank.

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The Evening Standard and Evgeny Lebedev declined to comment to the Financial Times.

The reported investment comes four months after a Saudi hit squad sent from Riyadh killed Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul, fueling international outrage.

Abuljadayel’s investment in the Independent sparked criticism among human rights and media freedom campaigners who were concerned that there was little information about the new investor or what it would mean for the outlet's coverage.

Seamus Dooley, acting general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, told MEE: "There are serious concerns about Saudi [Arabia] and their relationship with the concept of media freedom and the record of anyone from Saudi in terms of human rights is something that would be of concern to us."

An Independent spokesman at the time told MEE that the online newspaper’s editorial independence has been “formally protected”.