Dubai fund snaps up a 'significant stake' in Sony

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The Independent Online

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, has become one of the biggest shareholders in Sony, the Japanese conglomerate whose tentacles extend into electronic gadgets, movie studios and music.

Dubai International Capital, the sheikh's personal investment company, said it has taken a "substantial stake", believed to be around 3 per cent and worth up to $1.5bn.

The purchase makes Sony the latest corporate name to attract interest from the massive wealth funds that have built up in the Middle East during the last few years of soaring oil prices.

DIC was established by Sheikh Mohammed in 2004 and has made a string of high-profile investments so far this year. It took a 10 per cent stake in Och-Ziff, the US hedge fund manager, and holds 3 per cent of EADS, the European firm that owns Airbus.

It also owns stakes in HSBC, the London-based bank, and Daimler, the German car firm. Its private equity arm bought and sold the UK company behind Madame Tussauds and the London Eye.

The chief executive of DIC, Sameer al Ansari, said the investment in Sony was "consistent with our mandate of supporting premier global companies", adding: "The combination of Sony's truly global brand, its leadership in product design and its global footprint will spur the business' medium term growth as it capitalises on positive underlying trends and emerging technologies."

Under Sir Howard Stringer, the British-born chief executive, Sony has shed jobs, shut factories and spruced up its product line and is now into the third and final year of his restructuring programme. After a delayed and shaky start, demand for the company's flagship games console, the PlayStation 3, has started to pick up, but Sony shares have been depressed by concerns that consumer spending may weaken.

Sir Howard said he welcomed DIC's investment. "We are happy that DIC has recognised the strength of the Sony brand, as well as our unique competitive advantage in having both entertainment and electronics assets to drive our businesses forward."

Sony shares were up almost 5 per cent in Tokyo in the wake of the announcement. Wealth funds such as DIC and others from Dubai and the United Arab Emirates are seen as stable, long-term investors.

But their growing power has been controversial in many countries in the West. In the US, questions of national security have been raised over some investments, and a government-controlled Dubai company was refused permission to buy the US ports business of P&O last year.