Saudi ownership of Newcastle called into question by court admission

The Premier League were given assurances at the time of the takeover that the Public Inverstment Fund was separate to the Saudi state

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Thursday 02 March 2023 11:06 GMT
Newcastle and Saudi flags on show as Magpies fans arrive for cup final at Wembley

The Premier League are not commenting on an argument made by Public Investment Fund [PIF] in a US court that they are a “sovereign instrumentality of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”, a position that would appear to contradict the reasons given for approving the controversial takeover of Newcastle United in October 2021.

This is despite chief executive Richard Masters saying at the time that the Premier League had been given “legally binding assurances that essentially the state will not be in charge of the club” and that if there was “evidence to the contrary, we can remove the consortium as owners of the club”.

The development comes as part of the legal battle between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf, another highly contentious PIF sports project. A federal magistrate judge had ordered the fund to turn over documents and ruled that its governor, Yasir Al-Rumayyan - who is also the chairman of Newcastle United - must sit for depositions by the PGA Tour’s lawyers. The court had rejected PIF’s claim of sovereign immunity and lack of jurisdiction.

In response, the fund filed an amicus brief asking for the order subjecting them to discovery to be set aside, arguing that it creates an “unprecedented exception” and complying with it would require them to violate Saudi law.

The introduction reads: “The Order is an extraordinary infringement on the sovereignty of a foreign state that is far from justified here. The Public Investment Fund (“PIF) and His Excellency Yasir Othman Al Rmayyan (“HE”) are not ordinary parties subject to basic discovery relevance standards. They are a sovereign instrumentality of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and a sitting minister of the Saudi government…”

This is directly relevant to the protracted process that led to the Public Investment taking over 80% of Newcastle United as part of a consortium.

In the initial attempts to purchase the club in the first half of 2020, “Form Four” of the Owners and Directors’ Test was never filled in. Sources at the time said that since this would have been signed on behalf of the state, it would have brought questions on the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and a host of other human rights abuses.

The absence of entries on this form ultimately meant the Premier League had no actual decision to make for so long.

“Fundamental to the case was control,” a figure with knowledge of the proceedings said.

Newcastle chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan (centre left) and co-owner Amanda Staveley were at Wembley on Sunday as the Magpies lost in the carabao Cup final

In that time, the Premier League offered arbitration to resolve the issue, which was declined. The consortium temporarily walked away.

This was only resolved when PIF filled in Form Four in the months before the October 2021 takeover, a development that was combined with “legally binding assurances” that the absolute monarchy “will not control Newcastle United Football Club”.

The Premier League were “comfortable” with the way the structures had been presented.

In November 2021, chief executive Masters did an interview with BBC Sport where he was asked how the Premier League would know if the consortium was following the orders of the country’s Crown Prince.

“In that instance, I don’t think we would know. I don’t think it is going to happen,” Masters said. “There are legally binding assurances that essentially the state will not be in charge of the club.

“If we find evidence to the contrary, we can remove the consortium as owners of the club. That is understood.”

The Premier League are not commenting on the developments.

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters said at the time of the Newcastle takeover that the Premier League had been given “legally binding assurances that essentially the state will not be in charge of the club”

Meanwhile, Peter Frankental, Amnesty International UK’s Economic Affairs Director, said it was the NGO’s view that: “It was always stretching credulity to breaking point to imagine that the Saudi state wasn’t directing the buyout of Newcastle United with the ultimate aim of using the club as a component in its wider sportswashing efforts.

“In the 18 months since the Newcastle purchase, the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia has deteriorated markedly, with scores of executions after unfair trials, courts jailing peaceful critics, and the authorities continuing to block accountability for Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.

“There’s an unmistakable irony in the sovereign wealth fund declaration emerging in a dispute about another arm of Saudi Arabia’s growing sports empire, but the simple fact is that Saudi sportswashing is affecting numerous sports and governing bodies need to respond to it far more effectively.

“The Premier League will surely need to re-examine the assurances made about the non-involvement of the Saudi authorities in the Newcastle deal, not least as there’s still a Qatari bid for Manchester United currently on the table.”

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