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Columnist: UAE eyes Knight Ridder papers

When Beverly Hills billionaire Ron Burkle bids for a company, some of his money typically comes from the Dubai Investment Group, owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates, according to the New York Daily News. Such was the case last year when he unsuccessfully bid for Albertson’s and the commodities broker, Refco Inc., the paper said.

San Francisco Examiner columnist P.J. Corkery says that Dubai is backing Burkle’s bid for 12 Knight Ridder papers including the San Jose Mercury News and Contra Costa Times.

Burkle, through his Yucaipa Cos., is making a white-knight offer on behalf of Newspaper Guild union. The union says Burkle has promised to let employees become part owners of the papers if Yucaipa is the winning bidder.

If Burkle is successful — and the bids are due Tuesday — the parent company of these newspapers will have an unusual if not unprecedented cast of characters on its board of directors including Bill Clinton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. It would likely be the first time in history that a former U.S. president sat on the board of a company that owns newspapers.

Corkery, in his March 8 column, reports that Clinton is Yucaipa’s chief marketing guy. Burkle pays him $10 million a year, Corkery’s says, for services which are mostly to drum up money in Dubai. Corkery reports that Clinton flies so often to Dubai on Burkle’s Boeing 757 that he calls it “Air Ron.”

Burkle’s relationship with the Rev. Jackson goes back to the 1990s. The Chicago Tribune, in an April 8, 2001 story, reported that Burkle gave Karin Stanford a job and helped her with a home mortgage after she gave birth to the married civil rights leader’s child in 1999. The Tribune also alleged that Burkle helped Jackson’s two adult sons obtain an Anheuser-Busch distributorship in Chicago. Shortly after the deal, Jesse Jackson dropped his 15-year boycott against the company’s beers.

The Guild has said that it does not believe Yucapia will play any role in the newsroom. Corkery’s sources say that the UAE is mostly interested in the land and other financial assets of the companies it has been trying to acquire.

[Union at Monterey Herald to launch ‘SaveTheHerald.com’] [AP: Burkle’s firm to bid for 12 KR papers] [Merc; Gannett back in the picture] [Wash. Post: Burkle’s firm confirms it will bid] UPDATE ON MARCH 29: NY Sun: Clinton emerges in union group bidding for KR papers

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