Abu Dhabi-backed RedBird IMI has offered to take control of the Telegraph and Spectator under a deal to repay the debt owed by the Barclay family to Lloyds Banking Group.
RedBird IMI, the investment group run by former CNN boss Jeff Zucker, said on Monday it had agreed to provide funding to the Barclay family to repay the £1.1 billion of loans “in full” to Lloyds and “bring the Telegraph and Spectator out of receivership”. The lender seized the UK newspaper group last summer.
International Media Investments, the investment vehicle backed by Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, would also be involved in about half of the deal’s debt financing.
RedBird IMI said if the deal were to go ahead, it intended to exercise an option to convert debt into ownership of the newspaper group at “an early opportunity”. RedBird is conducting due diligence to check there is sufficient security on the underlying assets for them to provide the financing, one of the people involved said.
If Lloyds agrees to the proposal, the deal will mark the end of the Barclay family’s ownership of the national newspapers after two decades.
On Monday, the lender asked a court in the British Virgin Islands to adjourn until early December a hearing that could have liquidated the last of the Barclay family’s holding companies. It is still proceeding with a separate auction process to sell the Telegraph as well as sister publication the Spectator magazine.
As part of the proposed deal, Sheikh Mansour’s IMI would be left with a significant debt holding in the last remaining major business assets held by the Barclay family. This includes the Very retail and financial services group, according to people familiar with the discussions.
The deal will be structured as a £600 million loan secured against the Telegraph and Spectator from RedBird IMI. International Media Investments will provide a separate loan of a similar amount secured against other Barclay family businesses and commercial interests.
This would balance out the difference between the £1.1 billion offered to repay the Lloyds debt in full, and the £600 million equity value of the Telegraph group, according to people familiar with the talks. It is only the loan against the Telegraph that would be converted into equity.
Conservative MPs have urged ministers to use the national security act to investigate the deal given their fears of influence by Abu Dhabi over the editorial team at a newspaper that is traditionally close to the party’s interests.
RedBird has offered assurances that the Telegraph will be editorially independent to avoid regulatory investigations. US-based RedBird Capital “alone will take over management and operational responsibility for the titles under the leadership of RedBird IMI chief executive Jeff Zucker”, it said, adding: “International Media Investments will be a passive investor only.”
It said that RedBird IMI was committed to maintaining the existing editorial team of the Telegraph and Spectator publications, and wanted to expand the reach of the titles “in the UK, the US and other English-speaking countries”.
Telegraph journalists have raised concerns about editorial independence, according to a memo sent to staff by editor Chris Evans on Monday. “At the moment I know no more than you will have read,” Evans wrote.
People close to the talks said that Lloyds needed to carry out its own checks on sources of funding and financial crime due diligence before agreeing to the proposal. — Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2023