Qatari royal invested about $50 million in pro-Trump network Newsmax

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Former President Donald Trump and Newsmax Media CEO Christopher Ruddy have been tightly linked in conservative circles.

Before and after the investment, senior newsroom leaders urged Newsmax staff to soften coverage of Qatar, current and former employees said.

A member of the Qatari royal family invested roughly $50 million in Newsmax, according to documents and representatives for the media company and the royal, in a moment of acute Middle East tensions during the Trump administration. The investment bolstered a key conservative media outlet at a time when Qatar was facing intense diplomatic pressure from its neighbors and seeking allies in the United States.

At the time the investment was made, a coalition of countries led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had established a diplomatic and economic blockade against Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorist groups across the Middle East. Qatar had counted on its relationship with the United States for protection, but President Donald Trump initially sided with its regional rivals, praising their move in 2017 and criticizing Qatar for funding terrorism.

In 2019 and 2020, Sheikh Sultan bin Jassim Al Thani, a former Qatari government official and the owner of a London-based investment fund, Heritage Advisors, invested in Newsmax. The investment has not been previously reported.

Newsmax had been looking for outside investors to better compete with its much larger rival, Fox News, according to people who spoke at the time with its founder and CEO, Christopher Ruddy. Before and after the investment, senior newsroom leaders urged Newsmax staff to soften coverage of Qatar, current and former employees said. A representative for Newsmax strongly disputed that the network “slanted coverage to be favorable to Qatar,” and that Ruddy had told staff not to criticize the country.

Newsmax and Heritage Advisors confirmed the investment after being presented with documents detailing the transaction, which show that Sultan subsequently transferred his stake to a Cayman Islands-based corporate structure. The $50 million investment represents a significant minority stake in Newsmax, a privately held media company estimated to be worth between $100 million and $200 million, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.

The documents came from a trove of roughly 100,000 leaked files from Genesis Trust, a Cayman Islands-based financial services provider, which were obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and reviewed by The Washington Post.

Schillings, a London-based law firm and representative for Heritage, said that Sultan bought the stake because he “saw potential for the investment to be profitable” and had not acted on behalf of the Qatari state.

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND – DECEMBER 02: A delighted Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Thani, Chairman of Qatar 2022 Bid Committee, holds aloft the World Cup Trophy after Qatar were awarded the 2022 World Cup on December 2, 2010 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Photo by Mike Hewitt – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Among the documents were internal forms prepared by Genesis that proposed the corporate structure would be “set up with the intention of benefiting the State of Qatar.” They depicted Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al Thani, the younger brother of the ruler of Qatar and vice chairman of the country’s sovereign wealth fund (QIA), as the “option beneficiary,” a term for a person who would take control of the structure under certain circumstances. The documents also state the structure’s funds “will be used as directed by Sheikh Mohammed (on behalf of the Emir), most likely for the Qatar state pension fund.”

Sultan and Mohammed are both members of Qatar’s ruling Al Thani family, which numbers in the thousands.

Schillings said that the forms were erroneous and that neither Sultan nor anyone from Heritage had seen those documents before The Post and ICIJ reached out for comment. It said that the structure never had an option beneficiary and was not set up with the intention of benefiting Qatar. A spokesperson for the financial services firm Highvern, which acquired Genesis Trust in 2022, said that Sultan has always been the sole owner and beneficiary of the Caymans corporate structure.

Highvern director Roger Priaulx wrote in an affidavit in response to questions from ICIJ and The Post that the error on the forms was made without Sultan’s knowledge and resulted from preliminary estate planning discussions during which Mohammed was considered as the option beneficiary, who could make decisions regarding Heritage’s investments in the event of Sultan’s incapacity or death. The documents summarized these ideas but the plans were never put in place, the affidavit states.

“We operate independently of any government and make investment decisions based exclusively on our goal of creating value,” said a Heritage representative. “Where we invest in media, we have no editorial or management control. Any suggestion that our investments are driven by ulterior motives is simply false.”

Though it was not mentioned by name, Heritage was described in the January federal indictment of Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) as having “ties to the Government of Qatar.” The indictment alleges that a Qatari government official associated with the investment firm provided Menendez’s family members with tickets to the Formula One race in Miami. The Post has previously reported that the unnamed firm in the indictment matches the description of Heritage. The firm is not accused of wrongdoing. Schillings did not answer a question about the indictment’s characterization of the firm.

We were not allowed to criticize Qatar. We were told very clearly from the top down, no touching this.

— Newsmax employee

Newsmax had been in conversations in 2017 and 2018 with QIA, Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, about buying into the company, according to people familiar with the matter. A Politico report at the time said that Mohammed was the Qatari official overseeing those talks and noted that Ruddy denied that Qatar was going to invest in his company.

Newsmax representatives confirmed that the outlet approached Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund about a potential investment “around 2017,” and the fund ultimately passed.

Representatives for Heritage Advisors and Newsmax stated that Sultan’s 2019 investment was a separate transaction from the earlier talks with the Qatari government.

Other investments by Heritage Advisors in recent years include a Miami-based real estate developer, a professional soccer team in Indiana, and The News Movement, a media entity launched in 2020 to target a Gen Z audience and co-founded by William Lewis, who became publisher of The Post this year.

Ruddy, a longtime media executive with deep ties to Republican politics, has long been a fixture at Trump’s private Mar-a-Lago Club and spent much of Trump’s presidency positioning himself in close proximity to the former president, according to club members and former Trump aides. In the months following Trump’s 2020 defeat, Newsmax amplified Trump’s false claims that the election had been stolen from him.

Newsmax’s coverage denying Trump’s loss helped briefly lift ratings, so much so that for one night in December 2020, Newsmax bested cable news giant Fox News among the key demographic of 25- to 54- year-old viewers during its 7 p.m. hour. “We’re here to stay,” Ruddy said at the time. “The ratings are showing that.” But Newsmax’s viewership, as measured by Nielsen, a media analytics company, plateaued and then quickly shrank.

Large sign reading Newsmax above a stall inside a conference hall, with people walking past.
Signage for the Newsmax conservative television broadcasting network is displayed at a broadcast TV booth at the National Rifle Association (NRA) annual meeting in Texas in 2022. Image: PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

Before and after Sultan’s investment, the outlet’s top editorial brass urged staff to soften on-air coverage of Qatar, including by avoiding discussion of the nation’s human rights record and treatment of migrant labor ahead of it hosting the World Cup in 2022, according to two Newsmax employees at the time who witnessed the exchanges and spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid angering the Newsmax CEO.

“We were not allowed to criticize Qatar,” one of these people said. “We were told very clearly from the top down, no touching this.” Ruddy verbally reprimanded a female host in 2018 for her on-air comments about Qatar, according to two other people who saw the exchange.

A Newsmax representative, Bill Daddi, said that Newsmax has published “numerous critical items about Qatar” and largely tracks with major wire and news outlet reports. He pointed to several examples on Newsmax.com, including an interview with a former Israeli ambassador who attacked Qatar for having ties with Iran and Hamas. He also provided examples on Newsmax’s TV channel since Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel, in which the outlet’s hosts and guests frequently condemned Qatar for funding Hamas and allowing the movement’s leaders to reside in the country, among other things.

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