x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Alwaleed expands media empire

The Saudi billionaire, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, has acquired more than 85 per cent of LMH Holding.

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal is the world's richest Arab.
Prince Alwaleed bin Talal is the world's richest Arab.

ABU DHABI // The Saudi billionaire, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, has acquired more than 85 per cent of LMH Holding, which owns the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation satellite channel (LBC SAT), an executive from his Rotana media company confirmed yesterday. The Saudi royal increased his stake in LMH Holding from 49 per cent to "more than 85 per cent and less than 90", said the Saudi-based Rotana executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "This is part of a big plan, not only for LBC, but for the Rotana channels as well."

The Rotana executive would not elaborate, saying only that the acquisition was part of a five-year plan to consolidate Prince Alwaleed's television interests under one banner. The acquisition of the shares has injected US$78 million (Dh286.5m) into LMH's capital, which now stands at $123m. Prince Alwaleed - who with a net worth of $21bn is the richest Arab and the 19th richest person in the world, according to Forbes magazine's annual ranking - owns the Rotana pop music and entertainment empire, which includes six free-to-air TV channels.

Pierre Daher, the chairman and chief executive of LBC, told the Lebanese daily newspaper, An-Nahar, that the capital increase would "strengthen the financial capacity, competitiveness and productivity" of his satellite channel. The Rotana executive said that the LBC news and entertainment channel would not lose its venerable Lebanese identity. "This is the most important thing, a very important consideration," he said. "Prince Alwaleed himself has said that he doesn't want to change the Lebanese identity of the channel."

Some three dozen Lebanese individuals and corporations hold the majority of shares in the free-to-air terrestrial and satellite broadcaster, based in Beirut. Prince Alwaleed also acquired a majority stake in the Production and Acquisition Company (PAC), a media production company, as part of the deal. LBC was founded in 1985, at the height of the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war, by the right-wing Christian party, the Lebanese Forces.

Ownership of the station was transferred away from the Lebanese Forces to Mr Daher in the mid-1990s after the pro-Syrian Lebanese government arrested the party leader, Samir Geagea, and outlawed the anti-Syrian political party. The Lebanese Forces filed legal action against Mr Daher last year, on charges of breach of trust, in a bid to regain ownership of the station. The case is still pending in court, but an unnamed source from the Lebanese Forces told An-Nahar that the court had placed liens on LBC and hence the sale of any shares was illegal.

The Rotana executive disputed the claim. "There's a law, there are courts, they [the Lebanese Forces] can discuss this matter in court if they have anything to say," he said. rabouzeid@thenational.ae