MP warns Masters against 'humiliating' Saudi takeover of Newcastle
Richard Masters, the chief executive of English soccer’s Premier League, is hopeful the process relating to the controversial Saudi Arabia-backed takeover of Newcastle United will be “concluded shortly” but was today warned by a UK member of Parliament that it would be “humiliating” to allow it to go through.
The league is still carrying out its owners and directors test more than three months after a £300 million ($370 million) deal was agreed between Newcastle owner Mike Ashley and the consortium fronted by British financier Amanda Staveley and 80 per cent financed by the Saudi Public Investment Fund.
That deal is in its final stages as it only requires approval from the Premier League which is taking considerably longer than usual with the ratification process typically taking up to four weeks.
The drawn out process has cast huge doubts over whether the deal will be rubber-stamped and this intensified earlier this month with a significant ruling from the World Trade Organisation which deemed the Saudi government responsible for piracy of broadcasts carried out by beoutQ, a network based in the country.
Masters today spoke publicly on the takeover and provided an update after facing stern questions from members of Parliament and of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee.
He said: “All processes have to conclude and I would like the process to conclude shortly. I do appreciate the uncertainty. In a perfect world, takeovers would happen clearly, cleanly and in a timely fashion. Sometimes things get complicated.
‘It is very difficult because it is an entirely confidential process that involves all sorts of due diligence and the application of the owners and directors test. When it drags on, sometimes there is a requirement for information. There are legal requirements in place that need to be observed.
“Some takeovers are straightforward and others are not. But if they can find the right people for their football clubs, they will be allowed through, and if not the right people, they will not.”
MPs questioned how the league could approve the deal following the WTO report, with Scottish National Party member John Nicolson stating that the owners and directors test could be discredited if Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the chairman of the Saudi Public Investment Fund, is approved because of alleged links to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
Nicolson said: “The grizzly Prince Mohammed bin Salman was implicated in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi who was lured into the Saudi embassy and chopped up into little pieces. You could find Bin Salman passing the fit and proper test and taking over a club – that would be humiliating for you surely?”
The Premier League is one of several organisations that has led the charges against the beoutQ pirate network, with the others including BeIN Media Group, the Qatar-based pay-television broadcaster, and top soccer bodies such as Fifa, Uefa, Spain’s LaLiga and Germany’s Bundesliga.
Masters admitted it has been a frustrating process in trying to bring down the Saudi-based operation.
He said: “I think our views on what has happened in Saudi Arabia around beoutQ are on public record and obviously we were extremely frustrated with that process.
“What we want – off the back of the WTO report and our own efforts and those of other sports – is for Saudi Arabia to respond positively to the situation and allow sports rights holders to protect their rights.”
Following the report, the Saudi Arabian Authority for Intellectual Property last week pledged to eliminate piracy and shut down 231 illicit platforms, which represented an astonishing u-turn after more than two years of harbouring - and denying to acknowledge the existence of - beoutQ.
The government said it launched “an inspection campaign” to “stop websites and platforms violating intellectual property laws.” Those breaching copyright protection law could incur fines of 250,000 Saudi riyals ($66,666) and those responsible be jailed for six months.
The move was viewed in many quarters as an attempt to make sure that the takeover of Newcastle is not derailed by the damning WTO report.
Following the release of the report, the UK government said it is was keen to play a role in the decision-making process by “applying several legal takeover safeguards.”
This was in direct contrast to the stance previously taken by Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, who said in May the government was unlikely to block the sale of Newcastle as it was a “matter for the Premier League."
However, Masters today denied that the league had been guided by the government, telling the DCMS committee, “you are suggesting that we were put under pressure to go one way or another. That has not happened.”
Newcastle recently received a late £350 million takeover bid from Henry Mauriss, a US businessman and television executive, in an attempt to hijack the deal if the Premier League rejects the Saudi consortium.