MPs Raise National Security Concerns Over UAE-Backed Telegraph Offer

(Bloomberg) -- Conservative lawmakers have invoked national security concerns as they push the government to scrutinize the UAE’s support of the Barclay family’s push to reclaim the Telegraph.

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The Barclay family has offered to pay over £1 billion ($1.25 billion) of debt to Lloyds Banking Group Plc to reclaim control of the Telegraph titles. That effort is reportedly backed by media investment vehicle RedBird IMI, a joint venture between RedBird Capital Partners and the United Arab Emirates-based International Media Investments.

In a letter to UK Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden, Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer and Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch, six Tory lawmakers called for the government to intervene under the National Security and Investment Act to probe the structure of that investment vehicle and its relationship with the royal family of the United Arab Emirates. The letter — seen by Bloomberg — also said ministers should issue a Public Interest Intervention Notice to further scrutinize the proposed deal.

“This offer could lead to a ruling royal family taking the publications as security for their £1.15bn funding loan, an amount which, by any sensible measure, the revenue of the publications will not be able to support,” the lawmakers wrote. “Material influence over a quality national newspaper being passed to a foreign ruler at any time should raise concerns, but given the current geopolitical context, such a deal must be investigated.”

The letter was signed by MPs John Hayes, Neil O’Brien, Edward Leigh, Tom Hunt, Nick Fletcher and peer Margaret Eaton. Dowden will take advice from officials on his next steps, a person familiar with the matter said. Fraser, as culture secretary, is expected to respond to the letter on behalf of the government, the person said.

National Security

The lawmakers described any possible influence of the UAE royal family over the Telegraph as “a risk to our national security,” citing its record on press freedom and position on Israel. “While the UAE is an ally of the UK, it is still important to scrutinize the degree of influence a member of a foreign government may have over such important publications which shape views of all stakeholders in the UK.”

The prospect of foreign influence on the politically influential title has already raised concerns among senior ministers including Badenoch and Security Minister Tom Tugendhat, Bloomberg reported Saturday.

Lloyds seized the Telegraph titles along with the Spectator magazine from the Barclay family in June to claw back debts, removing Barclay family members from their director positions and placing the businesses in receivership. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. has been appointed to run the sales process for the Telegraph Media Group Ltd. and the Spectator (1828) Ltd.

The titles have already attracted interest from various bidders, including US billionaire and major Republican donor Ken Griffin who has discussed a potential bid with hedge fund manager Paul Marshall, people familiar with the matter have said previously.

--With assistance from Thomas Seal.

(Adds details of government’s next steps in fifth paragraph.)

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