Premier League urged to re-examine Saudi Newcastle takeover
The Premier League has been urged to re-examine assurances given by Newcastle’s Saudi owners that the Middle East state would not have control of the club following the filing of a new court document in the United States.
The document filed earlier this week has raised fresh questions about the level of separation between the Saudi state and the Public Investment Fund (PIF), whose governor Yasir Al Rumayyan is also chairman of Newcastle.
A brief filed in a court case involving the PGA Tour and LIV Golf describes the PIF as “a sovereign instrumentality of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” and Al Rumayyan as “a sitting minister of the Saudi government”.
The Premier League approved the PIF-led takeover of Newcastle in October 2021 after receiving “legally-binding assurances” that the Saudi state would not have control of the club. Now human rights group Amnesty International is calling on the league to ask new questions of Newcastle’s owners.
“It was always stretching credulity to breaking point to imagine that the Saudi state wasn’t directing the buyout of Newcastle with the ultimate aim of using the club as a component in its wider sportswashing efforts,” Peter Frankental, Amnesty UK’s economic affairs director, said.
“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.”
The PIF is chaired by the Saudi Prime Minister, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, with eight of the nine PIF board members listed on the fund’s website as being either a minister or a royal advisor. Al Rumayyan is the only exception, but now the court document describes him as a minister too.
Frankental added: “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.”
The Premier League’s chief executive Richard Masters declined to comment on the matter after his on-stage appearance at the Financial Times Business of Football Summit in London on Thursday.
Masters told the BBC in November 2021 that if his organisation found evidence there was state involvement in the running of the club “we can remove the consortium as owners of the club”.
The PIF has also declined to comment. It is understood to have given legal undertakings to the Premier League that there would be no state control over the club.
The PIF is challenging an order to produce documents and testify in the LIV Golf case.
A document seen by the PA news agency and dated February 28 states: “The order is an extraordinary infringement on the sovereignty of a foreign state that is far from justified here.
“The PIF and His Excellency Yasir Othman Al Rumayyan are not ordinary third 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, and they cannot be compelled to provide testimony and documents in a US proceeding unless their conduct – not LIV’s or anyone else’s – is truly the ‘gravamen’ of the case.”
Sources linked to Qatari businessman Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani say he is bidding alone for Manchester United, with no assistance from the Qatari state, sovereign wealth funds or other individuals.
Meanwhile, a Companies House update has revealed changes to the Newcastle board.
Majed Al Sorour, the former chief executive of the Saudi Golf Federation, stood down as a director on December 14 seven months after his appointment.
Abdulmajid Ahmed Alhagbani, PIF’s head of MENA (Middle East and North Africa) securities investments, and Asmaa Mohammed Rezeeq, a PIF international investment professional, were appointed to the board on February 23.