Saudi Arabia takeover of Newcastle United nears completion

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Saudi Arabia takeover of Newcastle United nears completion

A Saudi Arabia-led takeover of Newcastle United is expected to be completed within the next 48 hours, sources told ESPN.

The Premier League club are expected to announce Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) will complete a buy-out of owner Mike Ashley in a deal worth just over £300 million, ending an 18-month deadlock after an agreement was originally reached in April 2020.

However, PIF, the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund (state-owned investment), failed to pass the Premier League club’s owners’ and directors’ test at the time, creating an impasse which has been resolved following intensive talks in recent weeks.

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Officially, the Premier League club has privately indicated they are now satisfied the consortium has provided proof the Saudi state would not have control of Newcastle.

The Premier League declined to comment to ESPN when contacted to explain how they had done this.

The deal is likely to meet strong public opposition in many quarters, however, given Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

Khashoggi had been critical of the Saudi government and was killed in an act determined by the United States government to have been directly ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, ruler of Saudi Arabia and chairman of the PIF.

Amnesty International called on the Premier League on Thursday to focus on human rights issues and “sportswashing.”

“Instead of allowing those implicated in serious human rights violations to walk into English football simply because they have deep pockets, we’ve urged the Premier League to change their owners’ and directors’ test to address human rights issues,” Amnesty’s Deshmukh said.

“The phrase ‘human rights’ doesn’t even appear in the owners’ and directors’ test despite English football supposedly adhering to FIFA standards.

“We’ve sent the Premier League a suggested new human rights-compliant test and we reiterate our call on them to overhaul their standards on this.”

As part of the agreement with Newcastle, PIF will take an 80% stake, with private equity firm Reuben Brothers paying for a 10% stake and British businesswoman Amanda Staveley receiving 10% for her role in brokering the deal.

Sources have told ESPN that the catalyst for the sudden change was the end of a four-year dispute over Premier League broadcast rights in the Middle East by Qatari-owned broadcaster BeINSports, which was banned in Saudi Arabia as the government blocked its signals.

Its content was then allegedly pirated by a Saudi-state run broadcaster beoutQ, which led to the beIN Corporation launching an international investment arbitration against Saudi Arabia seeking damages totalling more than $1 billion.

The World Trade Organisation ruled last year that Saudi Arabia helped breach international piracy laws in relation to beoutQ but despite an acknowledegment to rectify the issue, beIN channels were still not shown fully in the region.

The arbitration process continued but sources have told ESPN that the Saudis have recognised their defence was likely to fail and have instead now sought a settlement with the beIN corporation.

Now the piracy issue has been resolved, the Premier League is no longer in dispute with the Saudi state, although they maintain the key factor has been PIF proving it is a separate entity from the country’s government rather than the end of the broadcast rights row.

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