Saudi-backed takeover of Newcastle imminent after 18-month wrangle
A Saudi Arabian-led consortium is close to finally taking over Newcastle United and ending Mike Ashley’s 14-year-old ownership of the club, with a deal expected to be approved imminently.
Some sources have suggested the £300m takeover could even be completed within the next 24 hours – although others are more cautious – with Amanda Staveley, the British businesswoman, likely to be the face of the deal on an interim basis before being moved aside.
The development follows the news that Saudi Arabia has lifted its four-year ban on beIN Sports to allow Premier League, Uefa and Fifa matches to be broadcast legally again – as well as also promising to close pirate websites operating in the country.
It is also understood that Saudi Arabia is in active discussions over beIN’s claims for damages totalling more than $1bn due to piracy.
However the Guardian understands that the resolution of the piracy issue has not been a key factor in putting the deal back on the table, which was first proposed in March 2020.
Rather it has been about the Saudi-backed Public Investment Fund (PIF) – the state’s sovereign wealth fund overseen by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – providing assurances to the Premier League that the Saudi state would not be involved in the day-to-day running of Newcastle.
That had been the key stumbling block in the initial deal hitting the rocks in July last year, with the Premier League considering the PIF de facto the Saudi state when it came to passing its Owners’ and Directors’ Test.
That issue has been the subject of a long legal dispute by Ashley, which was expected to be resolved in an arbitration hearing in January, but will now be dropped.
The news of Ashley’s departure will lead to deep joy and relief among long-suffering fans, who believe that he has run the club into the ground during his tenure. The prospect of the club being revitalised by new investors with deep pockets is now close to being a reality.
However there is likely to be a strong backlash from human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, who have long warned that the regime is trying to “sportswash” its reputation.
Amnesty has also warned that civil society has also been silenced in Saudi Arabia with “anyone critical of the regime has been exiled, arrested, or threatened.”
The United States intelligence department has also named Prince Mohammed as having approved the murder of the journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, at Saudi Arabia’s Turkish embassy in October 2018.
The Saudi consortium will own 80% of the club, with 10% going to the property developers Simon and David Reuben and the remaining 10% going to Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners.