Zucker will hold talks with Telegraph executives as government probe looms

Former CNN president Jeff Zucker will hold talks with executives at The Daily Telegraph’s publisher this week amid mounting controversy over the Abu Dhabi-backed takeover deal he is spearheading.

Sky News understands Mr Zucker, the head of RedBird IMI, will travel to London as expectations grow that the government will launch a public interest inquiry into its potential acquisition of the broadsheet newspaper.

A source close to RedBird IMI suggested Mr Zucker was unlikely to hold direct talks with ministers or Whitehall officials given the quasi-judicial nature of the inquiry, which could be launched within days.

Last week he told the Financial Times that other parties interested in owning the Telegraph titles and The Spectator magazine were “slinging mud and throwing arrows” in an attempt to undermine the RedBird IMI deal.

The Abu Dhabi-backed vehicle includes funding from Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a member of Abu Dhabi’s royal family and owner of Manchester City Football Club.

In recent weeks, MPs and peers mainly linked to the Conservative Party have expressed concern over what they claim would amount to the ownership of two of Britain’s most influential newspapers by a foreign government.

Lucy Frazer, the culture secretary, confirmed a Sky News report last week she was “set to” trigger a Public Interest Intervention Notice (PIIN)which would lead to an investigation by Ofcom, the media regulator.

RedBird IMI has moved into pole position to take control of the Telegraph by offering to repay £1.16bn owed by the Barclay family to Lloyds Banking Group, the newspapers’ long-time owners.

The potential owners have promised to give a legal undertaking to the government that Sheikh Mansour’s IMI group would be a passive investor.

It will also create a separate editorial consultancy to oversee the media assets.

On Friday, Sky News revealed that Lloyds and RedBird backed a proposal to retain the Telegraph’s independent directors during the PIIN process.

Rival bidders led by hedge fund billionaire and GB News shareholder Sir Paul Marshall have been agitating for a government inquiry into a RedBird IMI deal.

Sky News reported last week that Ed Richards, the former head of media regulator Ofcom, is acting as a lobbyist for RedBird IMI.

Flint Global, the company Mr Richards founded with former Foreign Office mandarin Sir Simon Fraser, has been hired because of Mr Richards’ track record of involvement in government investigations, which have the power to block or wind up corporate deals.

The Telegraph auction has also attracted interest from Daily Mail owner Lord Rothermere and National World, a London-listed local newspaper publisher.

An offer deadline this week has been postponed to December 10.

Until June, the Telegraph newspapers were headed by Aidan Barclay – the nephew of Sir Frederick Barclay, the octogenarian who, with his late twin Sir David, masterminded the takeover of the Telegraph 19 years ago.

Lloyds had been locked in talks with Barclays for years over refinancing loans given to them by HBOS prior to the bank’s rescue during the 2008 banking crisis.

The family’s debt to Lloyds also includes some funding linked to Very Group, the Barclay-owned online shopping business.

A spokesman for RedBird IMI declined to comment.

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