Saudi-backed Newcastle's ownership called into question

AP , Tuesday 28 Mar 2023

The ownership of Saudi-backed Newcastle was under renewed scrutiny on Tuesday when Premier League chief executive Richard Masters was asked by a member of the British parliament if the league was investigating the club’s backers. Masters told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee that he was unable to comment.

Newcastle United headqurter. AFP
Newcastle United headqurter. AFP


The question came in light of fresh uncertainty about who controls Newcastle, which was bought for $409 million in 2021, with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) having an 80% ownership stake.

At the time, a legally binding promise was made to the league that Saudi’s sovereign wealth fund was separate from the country’s government.

That has since been brought into question after an American court document filed by lawyers for Saudi-backed LIV Golf claimed the PIF should be regarded as “a foreign state.”

“I can’t really comment on it,” Masters said when asked by Clive Efford MP about potential investigations. “I mean, even to the point of saying, ‘Is the Premier League investigating it?’, we can’t really comment on it.

“Obviously we are completely aware. And you’re correct about the general nature of the undertakings that we received at the point of takeover. But I can’t really go into it at all.”

After Newcastle’s protracted takeover was completed, Masters told the BBC that the Saudi state would not control the club. He added that if it was proved untrue, “we can remove the consortium as owners.”

PIF says it has assets under its management valued last year at $620 billion. It is chaired by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, and six of the other eight board members listed on its website are government ministers.

Lawyers for LIV Golf argued in a case against the PGA Tour that PIF and its governor, Newcastle chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan, were “not ordinary third parties” and should be exempted from some standards in the discovery phase of the case.

“They are a sovereign instrumentality of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the filing said. It added that the discovery order was “an extraordinary infringement on the sovereignty of a foreign state.”

Newcastle has thrived under its new ownership. It has been transformed from a team that was battling to avoid relegation from English soccer’s top flight, to one that is challenging for qualification for next season's the Champions League.

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