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Saudi Arabia plans to seize controlling stake in broadcaster MBC

Saudi Arabia plans to seize controlling stake in broadcaster MBC

Reports claim officials plan to transfer 60 per cent of the regional broadcaster, leaving the remaining 40 per cent with the company’s chairman

Saudi authorities plan to take ownership of a majority stake in MBC Group, the Middle East’s largest private media company, as they move to seize assets from those caught up in an anti-corruption probe, sources close to the matter said on Wednesday.

Officials plan to transfer ownership of 60 per cent of the regional broadcaster while leaving the remaining 40 per cent in the hands of Waleed al-Ibrahim (pictured), MBC’s founder and chairman, the two sources told Reuters.

A Saudi official denied that the government would take any stake in MBC, saying nothing would be changed at the company. MBC declined to comment.

The broadcaster is currently 50 per cent owned by other members of the Ibrahim family and 10 per cent owned by Saleh Kamel, a Jeddah-based businessman who was detained at the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton during the crackdown, the sources said.

Waleed al-Ibrahim and his three brothers Khaled, Majed and Abdulaziz were likewise held at the Ritz-Carlton throughout the campaign, along with several hundred other businessmen and princes, and released in late January.

Read: MBC’s Ibrahim to keep control of broadcaster after detention

Dozens of suspects agreed to hand over more than $100bn of assets to the state in financial settlements of allegations against them, officials have said.

Read: Saudi says $107bn received in corruption settlements

A senior MBC executive said at the time of Waleed al-Ibrahim’s release that he was found innocent of any wrongdoing.

One of the sources said that Saudi authorities had initially begun talks to acquire a stake in MBC about two years ago, but that the parties could not agree on a price as MBC executives considered the government offer too low.

“Then they got it for free,” said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivities involved in the case.

News of the prospective transfer follows the announcement of a SAR6.6bn ($1.8bn) deal between state-run Saudi Telecom (STC) and the kingdom’s General Sports Authority for exclusive rights to broadcast Saudi professional soccer matches over 10 years.

Read: Saudi Telecom signs $1.8bn MoU to broadcast Saudi football

The deal took the rights away from the privately-controlled MBC, which in July 2014 signed a 10-year, SAR4.1bn deal to obtain them.

One of the sources said the rights were awarded to STC, which is 70 per cent owned by the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, without any tender.

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