31st July 2020

Ashley must seek new buyer after Saudis’ Newcastle bid falls through

The Saudi Arabian bid to buy English Premier League (EPL) club Newcastle United from businessman Mike Ashley has been scrapped. Officially the bid had been frozen for the past three months while League officials awaited clarification on the precise chain of responsibility proposed by the Saudi sovereign investment fund PIF, whose Chairman is effective ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The delay was prompted by EPL concern over the nature of the bidders’ links to a State content to host a satellite TV channel which has pirated broadcasting of major sports events across the Middle East and North Africa – including the Premier League. State denials were discredited last month, when the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ruled Saudi Arabia had breached global rules on intellectual property rights by failing to prosecute pirate broadcaster beoutQ in a three-year political and economic campaign against neighbouring Qatar.

Government spokesmen and PR agencies tried to claim that the verdict was a Saudi victory, but that stance was ultimately ridiculed when the Saudis announced an intention to appeal against the WTO ruling, thus conceding its veracity. The time needed for an appeal is impossible to estimate because of a dispute within the WTO with the United States, which effectively renders the appeal board inoperative.

Newcastle fans’ frustration was ended by a statement from the consortium which had comprised the PIF, PCP Capital Partners and Reuben Brothers. PIF would have taken an 80% under a deal proposed by PCP’s ‘fixer’ Amanda Staveley. PCP and the billionaire Reuben Brothers would each have taken 10%.

Consortium ‘regret’

The consortium announced that it was with ‘regret’ that it had pulled out. A statement said: ‘As an autonomous and purely commercial investor, our focus was on building long-term value for the club, its fans and the community as we remained committed to collaboration, practicality and proactivity through a difficult period of global uncertainty and significant challenges for the fans and the club. Ultimately, during the unforeseeably prolonged process, the commercial agreement between the Investment Group and the club’s owners expired and our investment thesis could not be sustained.’

The Premier League declined to comment. Separately it had come under pressure to reject the bid from human rights groups and the fiancee of murdered Journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Peter Frankental, Amnesty International UK’s economic affairs programme director, described the bid as an attempt by the Saudi government to “sportswash” its human rights record. “The fact that this sportswashing bid has failed will be seen by human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia as a sign that their suffering has not been entirely overlooked”, he said.

• This article was originally published on Keir Radnedge’s internet site on 29 July 2020. Click here for the original.

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