"Iran International Television" channel is being funded through a secretive offshore entity and a company whose director is a Saudi Arabian businessman with close links to the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Guardian newspaper has revealed.

Iran PressEurope: The disclosures are likely to raise concerns about the editorial independence of "Iran International", and comes at a time of growing fears about a number of Saudi-linked stations operating across London.  

A source has told the Guardian that Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who many believe is responsible for the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, is the force behind "Iran International". The station, which is operating out of Chiswick in West London, has not denied claims that it receives its funding from the Saudi royal court.

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"Iran International" TV emerged abruptly on the London media scene last year; many of the 100-strong staff network were offered generous salaries, often double what rivals paid, but was elusive about its' source of funding.

London has become a hub of such channels, which also include BBC’s Persian service and Manoto TV.

The source said Saud al-Qahtani, the crown prince’s information tsar, who was among two senior officials removed in connection with the Khashoggi affair, was involved in the funding behind "Iran International" TV.

“You could have a larger picture about how those kids [Saudi media moguls] with that money being thrown around [by Prince Mohammed] trying to change the world by buying media … It is money coming from the royal court,” the source said, when speaking about the crown prince.

"Iran International" said any suggestions that the network was involved in some type of wrongdoing, or was subject to inappropriate influences or was not editorially independent were without foundation.

While Saudi Arabia shows zero tolerance for criticism of its' absolute monarchy, as underlined by Khashoggi’s murder, it is setting up media organisations in other languages promoting free speech, particularly about Iran.

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Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi, a postdoctoral research fellow in modern Iranian history at the University of Oxford, said: “it appears that "Iran International" is part and parcel of the Saudi crown prince’s decision to take a more aggressive posture against Iran, emboldened, no doubt, by the US President Donald Trump administration.”

Employing a wide range of people in the Iranian diaspora, including human rights activists, "Iran International" has not disclosed any Saudi Arabian funding links to its' staff of many Iranian nationals.

“I was told that not even one Saudi rial is in the funding. If I knew it came from Saudi, I would not have joined the station,” one insider said. “I can say that "Iran International" TV has turned into a platform … for ethnic partisanship and sectarianism.”

Earlier this summer, the station was criticized for airing extensive live coverage of a rally by the MEK terrorist group. Senior Trump administration officials, including John Bolton, are advocates of the group, which was listed as a terrorist group in the US until 2012.

The insider claimed the editorial content of the station had been influenced by its' secret investors who were hidden behind an offshore Cayman Islands company. The MEK coverage, the insider said, was one such example.

Ofcom has recently scrutinised "Iran International" for giving airtime to the spokesperson of a group that praised a terrorist attack in Iran last month.

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Volant Media, the company that runs I"Iran International", has a director named Adel Abdulkarim, who is a Saudi national. He has had a long working relationship with well-connected Saudi executives, some of who have links to the royal court, including Abdulrahman al-Rashed, who sits on the board of Saudi Research and Marketing Group (SRMG), the largest publishing company in the Middle East.

Multiple sources claim Rashed, who is the former general manager of the Saudi-owned news channel Al Arabiya, was also involved in the operations and funding behind "Iran International".

According to one source, Saudi Arabia gave $250m (£197m) in funding to help the launch of "Iran International", which runs no commercial advertising. The source did not give a timeframe, but a scrutiny of its office’s rent and employee salaries points to an initial five-year period – $50m per year. Volant Media lost £26m in 2017, according to accounts filed on 4 October.

One former employee said many staff were stuck between a rock and a hard place. “They have realised they have not been told the truth about the Saudi paymasters behind the station but at the same time they can’t afford to resign or leave their job instantly for fear of incurring repayments under their contracts. Some rely on the television’s visa sponsorship to be able to continue living in London,” the former staff member said.

Rob Beynon, the acting head of the television station, did not deny that funding for it came from the Saudi royal court.

Shortly after Ahvaz terrorist attack, the London-based TV channel, "Iran International" allowed the terrorist group’s spokesman to go live on air to justify their heinous crime.

The move was strongly criticized by Iranian ambassador to London Hamid Baeedinejad. “Iran International has shamefully broadcast an interview with the spokesperson of the terrorist group behind today's terrorist attack in Ahwaz. We condemn this heinous act and will pursue formally with Ofcom to investigate it as an act in supporting terrorism and violence,” he said in a tweet.

Also Iran's Embassy in Britain filed a lawsuit against the London-based TV channel 'Iran International' at the UK’s communications regulator Ofcom over the channel’s support for a terrorist group involved in the attack. 101/201

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