Court blocks inquiry into Saudi investment in British newspapers
The British government has missed a deadline to investigate the purchase of large stakes in the Evening Standard and the Independent by Saudi Arabia, a UK appeals court has ruled.
Saudi investor Sultan Mohamed Abuljadayel reportedly used an offshore company based in the Cayman Islands to buy 30 percent stakes in the publications, both controlled by Russian businessman Eugeny Lebedev, The Guardian and Financial Times reported earlier this year.
The British culture secretary Jeremy Wright in June announced an investigation into the sale, raising fears that Saudi Arabia could have gained influence over the editorial line of the major British publications.
Read also: Concerns over 'propaganda spread' as Saudi billionaire buys stake in London's Evening Standard
The Competition Appeal Tribunal on Friday said the government had missed a four-month deadline window to ask the Competition and Markets Authority to launch a full investigation, as information on the deal had already been passed to the regulator, the Financial Times reported.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport said it was "disappointed with this outcome and will study the judgment carefully" before taking any further steps.
The department has until September 6 to appeal the decision.
ESI Media, which owns the Independent and the Evening Standard, welcomed the tribunal's ruling.
"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," it said.
The purchase of large stakes in the British newspapers had raised eyebrows when they were announced.
Some suspected the Saudi media investments were part of government-linked efforts to improve Riyadh's image in Western media.
The Saudi government, and its de-facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, have come under fire for human rights abuses, including the grisly murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Russian businessman Lebedev has close ties to Saudi Arabia and posted a picture on his Instagram account last year with Saudi-backed forces in Yemen while accompanying an Evening Standard reporter.