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Saudi Arabia 'to take majority share' of MBC broadcaster

MBC Group has its headquarters in Dubai's Media City [Getty]

Date of publication: 8 February, 2018

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Saudi Arabia authorities plan to take a majority control of MBC, sources have said, following its founder Waleed al-Ibrahim's release from the Ritz-Carlton jail.

Saudi authorities plan to take majority control of the Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC), the region's largest TV network, as part of the assets seized during November's purported anti-corruption probe, Reuters reported.

Officials plan to take a 60 per cent ownership share of the free-to-air broadcaster, which launched in London in 1991 and is now headquartered in Dubai. The remaining 40 per cent will be owned by MBC's founder Waleed al-Ibrahim.

Ibrahim was detained in November at the makeshift Ritz-Carlton jail in Riyadh. He was released earlier this month after reaching an undisclosed deal with Saudi authorities.

Saudi officials denied to Reuters that the government would take any ownership share of the broadcaster.

MBC declined to comment.

Sources briefed on the matter told the Financial Times that Ibrahim was reportedly forced to hand over the controlling share to secure his release.

Two years ago, Saudi officials sought to acquire an ownership share, but no deal was reached after MBC executives considered a government offer too low.

"Then they got it for free," one source told Reuters.

Earlier this week, the state-run Saudi Telecom struck a $1.8 billion agreement with MBC for exclusive rights to broadcast professional soccer matches in the kingdom.

MBC had signed a 10-year 4.1 billion riyal deal in 2014 to obtain the rights.  

Riyadh's top sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment, controls 70 per cent of Saudi Telecom. In addition to broadcast rights, the company will also have exclusive sponsorship rights for the matches.

MBC has a 50 per cent share in the Saudi broadcast market, and attracts 140 million viewers daily across the region.

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