Tech billionaire Austin Russell was only a “face” in the acquisition deal, according to leaked audio records
Russian businessman Magomed Musaev may be the true buyer of a majority stake in Forbes Global Media Holdings, the Washington Post reported on Friday, citing leaked audio and video records in which the tycoon allegedly discussed the deal with his business associates.
Reuters and Wall Street Journal reports had previously named Austin Russell, a 28-year-old automotive tech billionaire, as the media conglomerate’s new owner. Russell himself spoke about the deal, which was valued at roughly $800 million, to reporters and outlined his plans for the company and his personal involvement in it.
However, according to the Washington Post, tapes that it obtained – dating from early June – painted a different picture. In the recordings, Musaev, who owns Forbes Russia, reportedly said he was the real buyer of the global media conglomerate, while Russell was merely “the face” of the deal.
“I just bought global Forbes,” Musaev could reportedly be heard saying in one of the recordings. Musaev also reportedly said he wanted to keep his own involvement in the acquisition quiet.
“I am doing it more subtly… You understand, I am not working with a sledgehammer, nor with a scalpel, but with a laser,” he was cited as saying.
Musaev reportedly called the acquisition “the deal of a lifetime” and a “key to the most authoritative global brand.” It was unclear from the records how large Musaev’s contribution to the purchase was and what exactly his future plans for Forbes are.
Reports of Musaev’s involvement in the Forbes deal have been circulating in the US media for some time. Most noted that Russell and Musaev were linked through the latter’s $20 million investment in Russell’s company Luminar in 2016. According to the Washington Post’s sources, the two have regularly interacted ever since, and Russell attended Musaev’s 60th birthday party in New York in June, mere weeks after he announced the deal to acquire Forbes.
The reports have drawn the attention of the US authorities, with Senators Tom Cotton and Marco Rubio in August calling on Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who also chairs the US Committee on Foreign Investment, to review the deal. The senators claimed that Russell was “masquerading as the lead buyer” and that it was “evident that Russell is merely a conduit for larger foreign investors.”
However, Russell has denied Musaev’s involvement in the deal.
“Musaev has no involvement whatsoever in the Forbes transaction. Any suggestion to the contrary is false… There is not a single dollar of capital from any Chinese or Russian citizen or entity, including Musaev,” a spokesperson for Russell told the Washington Post. Musaev also denied his involvement in the Forbes takeover in an emailed statement to the outlet.
It is still unclear, however, how exactly the deal will be financed, as Russell declined to reveal the investment details until the sale is finalized. Forbes’ current owner, Hong Kong-based Integrated Whale Media Investments, told the newspaper that it has conducted “extensive due diligence on the buyer group being led by Austin Russell” and “uncovered no reason for concern with any investors involved.” The transaction is expected to be finalized in November.
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