Saudi Arabian-backed takeover of Newcastle United nears

Mike Ashley has owned Newcastle United since 2007

A Saudi Arabian takeover of Newcastle United is close to being agreed.

Approval from the Premier League could possibly come in the next 24 hours after a consortium proved the Saudi state would not have control of the club.

Instead, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), which is set to provide 80% of funds for the £300m deal, will be seen as separate to the state and therefore allow the takeover to pass the Premier League owners’ and directors’ test.

It was believed that a resolution came after Saudi Arabia settled an alleged piracy dispute with Qatar-based broadcaster beIN Sports, which own rights to show Premier League matches in the Middle East.

But sources have told BBC Sport that an agreement between the Premier League and the consortium was found prior to the news emerging on Wednesday, with the two parties being set for arbitration on 3 January.

The Saudi Arabian state has been accused of human rights abuses, but with the majority owner PIF deemed a separate entity, that, and any piracy issues, are no longer an impediment to the takeover in the Premier League’s view.

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The shock news will delight the fanbase after a Newcastle United Supporters’ Trust survey on Tuesday showed that 93% of its members were in favour of the takeover.

Many fans want current owner Mike Ashley to leave the club after a 14-year reign, which they believe has been plagued by a lack of investment and ambition.

The Premier League and Newcastle have declined to comment.

An 18-month saga comes to its conclusion

Whatever the reason for the resolution between the consortium, fronted by financier Amanda Staveley, and the Premier League, it is set to end an 18-month saga.

A deal had been agreed in April 2020 between Newcastle and the buyers, which also includes Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners and the Reuben brothers, but they walked away four months later when the Premier League offered arbitration to settle a disagreement on who would control the club.

That would decide whether PIF was separate to the Saudi state and therefore whether it would pass the league’s owners’ and directors’ test, which measures the suitability of owners at a club.

It has been unclear whether alleged piracy or alleged human rights abuses by Saudi Arabia were the central issue, but they have been rendered immaterial now that PIF is regarded as a different entity.

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That is despite Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman also being chair of PIF and being accused of ordering the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which the Kingdom’s leader denies.

Amnesty International has been critical of the takeover, citing Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, and Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s chief executive, said: “Ever since this deal was first talked about we said it represented a clear attempt by the Saudi authorities to sportswash their appalling human rights record with the glamour of top-flight football.

“Saudi ownership of St James’ Park was always as much about image management for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his government as it was about football.”

The organisation wants the Premier League to update its owners’ and directors’ test to address human rights issues.

The breakthrough in the takeover coincides with news that came earlier on Wednesday that Saudi Arabia will cease showing Premier League and other football matches illegally via beoutQ and lift its four-and-a-half-year ban on showing beIN Sports.

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The Qatari broadcaster is currently in the middle of a £400m deal to show Premier League games in the Middle East and North Africa region over three years and the issue became subject of a World Trade Organisation report in June 2020, which said Saudi Arabia helped break international piracy laws.

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters also said in a letter in August 2020 that intellectual property rights were “critically important to the league’s commercial interests”.

BeIN Sports’ link to the takeover was also raised in Newcastle’s Competition Appeal Tribunal last week where it was alleged by lawyers that it and other Premier League clubs had “improperly influenced” the league into blocking the takeover based on its deal to show matches.

The claims came from Daniel Jowell QC, who was acting on behalf of St James Holdings, which wholly own shares for Newcastle and is also owned by club boss Mike Ashley.

A decision on that hearing is yet to be announced and could become redundant if the takeover is approved.

Source: BBC


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