RIYADH/DUBAI: 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 percent of the regional broadcaster while leaving the remaining 40 percent in the hands of Waleed al-Ibrahim, 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 percent owned by other members of the Ibrahim family and 10 percent 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.
Dozens of suspects agreed to hand over more than $100 billion of assets to the state in financial settlements of allegations against them, officials have said.
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 6.6 billion riyal ($1.8 billion) 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.
The deal took the rights away from the privately-controlled MBC, which in July 2014 signed a 10-year, 4.1 billion riyal deal to obtain them.
One of the sources said the rights were awarded to STC, which is 70 percent owned by the kingdom's sovereign wealth fund, without any tender.
($1 = 3.7501 riyals)
(Reporting by Marwa Rashad and Katie Paul) ((Katie.Paul@thomsonreuters.com;))