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Government considers new intervention into Telegraph takeover deal

The Abu Dhabi-backed fund seeking to take over the Daily Telegraph newspaper has submitted proposals with a new corporate structure in an attempt to appease criticism over the deal.

Officials at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) have said they could be forced to launch a new intervention process as a result.

In a letter, Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said she “remains concerned” over how the deal could impact free speech and accurate representation of the news despite changes to the structure of companies involved in the takeover.

RedBird IMI is an investment fund majority-owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, vice president of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and owner of Manchester City Football Club.

Manchester City v Inter Milan – UEFA Champions League – Final – Ataturk Olympic Stadium
Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan owns IMI, which is the majority stakeholder of RedBird IMI (Martin Rickett/PA)

The fund announced in November it had reached a deal with previous Telegraph owners, the Barclay family, to take control of the newspaper group, and fellow publication The Spectator, by paying off debts owed to their bank, Lloyds.

Shortly after the deal was announced, Ms Frazer confirmed the Government had triggered a Public Interest Intervention Notice (PIIN) to investigate its potential impact on press freedom.

Media regulator Ofcom and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) are both due to report to DCMS later this week with initial findings about the potential impact of the takeover.

However, on Wednesday, DCMS confirmed RedBird IMI submitted proposals with a new corporate structure earlier this week.

Daily Telegraph potential sale
The offices of the Telegraph Media Group in central London (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

As part of the new structure, RedBird IMI created a UK-based holding company for the Telegraph newspapers.

DCMA said the new proposed corporate structure would still see RB Investco, a subsidiary of RB IMI AIV Limited Partnership, take control of Telegraph Media Group (TMG).

RB IMI AIV Limited Partnership is ultimately majority-owned by IMI.

“The Secretary of State therefore remains concerned about the potential influence of IMI over TMG which could affect the free expression of opinion and accurate presentation of news in the newspapers,” the department continued in the letter.

Officials said in the letter that the restructure has created a new relevant merger situation (RMS) which could impact the current process into the potential impact of a takeover deal.

A RedBird IMI spokesman said: “This change was made in order to clarify the point that IMI is a passive investor in the company that will own the Telegraph and as such will have no management or editorial involvement whatsoever in the title.”

“We note the very late stage in the process at which information about this new corporate structure has been shared and implemented,” the department said.

“We do not consider this is conducive to the full and proper functioning of the process.”

The department called on RedBird IMI to make any further submissions in writing and said the Culture Secretary will await responses from the industry regulators.

“The Secretary of State will consider these representations before taking a final decision on whether to issue a PIIN in respect of the new RMS,” the official added in the letter.

Earlier this week, Fraser Nelson, editor of The Spectator, warned that preserving a free press “means keeping governments and publications apart”.