Newcastle United is at the centre of a political storm today after a Saudi-Arabian backed consortium bought the Premier League club from Mike Ashley with Boris Johnson under pressure to speak out about the ‘sportswashing’ deal critics say has made the murderous state’s crown prince the de facto owner and further proves cash is king in football.
The takeover went through fourteen months after Saudi Arabia‘s Public Investment Fund (PIF) withdrew a £305 million bid to buy the north-east club from Sports Direct owner Mr Ashley following the Premier League’s failure to give regulatory approval. Yesterday’s deal coincided with the state liftin its four-year ban on beIN Sports, which shows Premier League (EPL) matches in the Gulf.
The EPL has been widely criticised and is being ask to reveal the ‘legally binding assurances’ it said it received before accepting PIF’s claims that it is separate to the totalitarian state, and its ruling royal family wouldn’t interfere, despite the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), being PIF’s chairman.
There were wild celebrations outside St James’ Park yesterday when the deal was announced but MPs and human rights groups have furious about the deal, which makes Newcastle the richest club in the world back by a fund worth at least $500billion and predicted to be worth $1trillion by 2025.
Supporters threw beer, put tea towels on their heads, dressed as sheikhs and waved Saudi flags to celebrate the end of the hated Ashley era and new hope they could win their first major trophy since 1955, but they are now in the hands of a tyrannical regime who human rights groups believe will exploit the club to polish its murky global image, especially over its murder and incarceration of critics and the ongoing war with Yemen, where its population has been bombed and starved.
Financier Amanda Staveley, the former girlfriend of Prince Andrew who is the British face of the deal, insisted last night: ‘Our partner is not the Saudi state’, despite PIF funding 80 per cent of the deal. Alan Shearer, the club’s greatest player who the new owners hope to make a club ambassador with Kevin Keegan, said today that it was a ‘special day’ for the club – but added: ‘I understand that questions have to be asked about the human rights issues, it’s really important that we don’t brush them under the carpet’.
Critics have called it football’s darkest day, allowing the murderous state to ‘sportswash’ its reputation around the globe. Crown Prince Bin Salman is said to have warned Boris Johnson that Anglo-Saudi relations could be affected if the Premier League didn’t approve the takeover.
Grant Shapps today insisted that the deal had passed the ‘very clear’ owners and directors test used by the Premier League.
‘If people pass that test, as the rules and the law stands, people are entitled to invest in clubs,’ he said, adding: ‘My understanding in this case is that there has been a complete separation between the country and the business that is involved so there is no direct control.
‘I have to confess you are not in my area of complete expertise, but I do know the owners and directors test has to have been passed otherwise this (firm) could not have taken over. I do know the fans seemed pretty pleased about it when I saw them celebrating on the TV last night’.
MBS, whose Gulf state has horrified the world because of its treatment of women, LGBT people and minority groups, was vilified globally having been accused of ordering the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist who was critical of the state and its leaders.
Mr Khashoggi had been invited to his country’s consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018 for an appointment to pick up documents that would allow him to get married to his Turkish fiancee Hatice Cengiz. He never walked out.
A team of 15 Saudi agents had flown to Turkey to meet Mr Khashoggi inside the consulate. He was strangled and then dismembered with a bone saw by the 15-man Saudi squad. His remains have not been found.
After the Premier League confirmed the struggling club had been sold to a consortium consisting of PIF, PCP Capital Partners and RB Sports & Media with immediate effect, fans began celebrating wildly outside the St James’ Park stadium, throwing beer into the air and donning tea towels on their heads.
But while they were celebrating, critics of the takeover said it was another example of Saudi ‘sportswashing’. Many opposed to the takeover point to Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women, its on-going war in Yemen, and the 2018 killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the country’s Istanbul consulate – found by the CIA to be ordered by the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) himself.
Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s CEO, said: ‘We can understand that this will be seen as a great day by many Newcastle United fans, but it’s also a very worrying day for anyone who cares about the ownership of English football clubs and whether these great clubs are being used to sportswash human rights abuse.
‘In our assessment, this deal was always more about sportswashing than it was about football, with Saudi Arabia’s aggressive move into sport as a vehicle for image-management and PR plain for all to see.’
Pictured: Newcastle United supporters celebrate in Newcastle Upon Tyne on Thursday after a Saudi-Arabian backed consortium completed its purchase of the Premier League club
Newcastle United fans celebrate at St James’ Park following the announcement that The Saudi-led takeover of Newcastle has been approved. Picture date: Thursday October 7, 2021
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman pictured with Boris Johnson – Bin Salman warned Johnson that Anglo-Saudi relations could be affected if the Premier League didn’t approve the takeover. MPs and human rights groups want him to speak out
Pictured: Newcastle United fans wave flags at St. James’ Park following the announcement that The Saudi-led takeover of Newcastle has been approved. Picture date: Thursday October 7, 2021
The rubbish left outside St James’ Park by NUFC fans after their celebrations yesterday
Intelligence services in the United States have named Bin Salman as signing off on the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi (pictured) in 2018, inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul
Financier Amanda Staveley arrives at Jesmond Dene House, Newcastle, ahead of an interview following the announcement that The Saudi-led takeover of Newcastle has been approved. Picture date: Thursday October 7, 2021
How murderous Saudi regime linked to Newcastle United lured in critic Jamal Khashoggi before hit squad chopped him up inside Istanbul consulate and dumped body parts in suitcases
Last moments: Khashoggi was last seen on October 2, 2018, entering the consulate in Istanbul where he was accosted and killed by alleged Saudi agents
Jamal Khashoggi made his fateful trip to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.
He had gone to the consulate to pick up paperwork relating to his upcoming marriage, but once inside he was confronted and killed by Saudi operatives.
Khashoggi had once been close to the Saudi royal family but before his death had written critical pieces in the Washington Post about Mohammed bin Salman and his policies. Various international agencies would later accuse the prince of ordering the murder.
The crown prince came under worldwide suspicion over Khashoggi’s death and a UN investigator’s report in 2019 said there was credible evidence of his involvement.
Khashoggi’s killers described him as ‘an animal to be sacrificed’ in secret recordings taken inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul minutes before he died.
A full transcript of the recordings, published in 2019, reveals how Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, deputy leader of the hit-squad sent to silence Khashoggi, an Dr. Salah Muhammed Al-Tubaigy, who cut up his body, talked about the killing beforehand.
Khashoggi is told to write his son a text message saying not to worry if he cannot be contacted, in an apparent attempt to cover the hit-squad’s tracks.
In the transcript Mutreb talks about stuffing Khashoggi’s body into a bag, but Al-Tubaigy says he is too heavy and tall, so will have to be cut up and put into suitcases.
The transcript then reveals Khashoggi’s final conversation with the two men and an unnamed accomplice, before he is drugged and has a plastic bag put over his head.
‘I have asthma. Do not do it, you will suffocate me,’ are Khashoggi’s final words before the sounds of a struggle and his body being dismembered are heard.
The audio was captured by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organisation on microphones hidden inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018.
Saudi Arabia has admitted Khashoggi’s killing was a premeditated act carried out by government agents, but said they were ‘rogue elements’ who acted without official authorisation.
To this day, no trace of his body has been recovered.
In a bombshell report in June 2019, UN special rapporteur Agnes Callamard argued there is ‘credible evidence’ linking Khashoggi’s death and attempts to cover it up to Prince Bin Salman.
The report concluded that the murder of Khashoggi ‘constituted an extrajudicial killing for which the State of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible.’
She found Saudi Arabia had taken only ‘timid steps’ towards addressing its responsibility through prosecution and reparations.
The report also found that Saudi Arabia’s closed-door trial of 11 unidentified suspects did not meet global standards and should be stopped.
A statement from the Premier League on Thursday confirmed the takeover had been given the green light.
‘The Premier League, Newcastle United Football Club and St James Holdings Limited have today settled the dispute over the takeover of the club by the consortium of PIF, PCP Capital Partners and RB Sports & Media,’ it read. ‘Following the completion of the Premier League’s Owners’ and Directors’ Test, the club has been sold to the consortium with immediate effect.’
The statement confirmed that legal disputes over who would control the club following the takeover, and involving broadcaster beIN sports, had been settled.
‘All parties have agreed the settlement is necessary to end the long uncertainty for fans over the club’s ownership. The Premier League has now received legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle United Football Club.’
A statement from Yasir Al-Rumayyan, governor of PIF who will become non-executive chairman of the club, said the deal would mean long-term investment to ‘harness the club’s potential and build upon the club’s legacy.
‘We are extremely proud to become the new owners of Newcastle United, one of the most famous clubs in English football. We thank the Newcastle fans for their tremendously loyal support over the years and we are excited to work together with them,’ he said.
The takeover, fronted by PCP Capital Partners’ chief executive Amanda Staveley, ends an unhappy era at St James’ Park and means Newcastle will be one of the world’s richest clubs.
A rapid sequence of events reignited the deal after Qatar-based broadcaster beIN Sports, a Premier League rights holder, said on Wednesday that Saudi Arabia would lift a ban on it and also shut down illegal streaming services, removing a major obstacle behind the collapsed takeover.
Another stumbling block was overcome after the Premier League, who came under pressure to block the deal last year, received ‘legally binding’ assurances that there was clear separation between PIF and the Saudi Arabia state, despite PIF being chaired by MBS.
PIF – Saudi Arabia’s $430 billion sovereign wealth fund – is at the centre of plans to transform the economy before 2030 by creating new sectors and diversifying revenues away from oil.
It is believed that the PIF will take an 80 percent majority stake in Newcastle, making it likely that MBS will have a big say in the running of the club’s finances. The Saudi media minister, Majed al-Qasabi, also sits on the PIF board and he was involved in resolving the piracy issue.
Last year, Bin Salman lobbied British Prime Minister Boris Johnson after objections were raised to the takeover – telling him ‘we expect the English Premier League to reconsider and correct its wrong conclusion’ – and warned Anglo-Saudi relations could be damaged if they didn’t.
The Daily Mail revealed in April that Bin Salman had lobbied Mr Johnson last year. Bin Salman told the Prime Minister: ‘We expect the English Premier League to reconsider and correct its wrong conclusion.’
In February, a US Government report concluded Bin Salman – the country’s de-facto leader – authorised the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi embassy in Turkey in 2018. He has previously denied ordering the killing or having any knowledge of it.
MBS has also been accused of being the architect behind the war in Yemen, which has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of children from starvation, according to human rights groups. Thousands of civilians have also been killed or injured in airstrikes in the country, prompting accusations of war crimes.
Despite written assurances sent to the Premier League that the state won’t be directly involved, it’s difficult to see how they won’t influence the running of the club.
Under MBS is Yasir Al-Rumayyan, governor of PIF, who will become non-executive chairman of Newcastle United. He is also a board member of Uber Technologies Inc and SoftBank group, and the chairman of Saudi Aramco, the official Saudi Arabian Oil Company.
PCP Capital Partners’ chief executive Amanda Staveley is, with her husband Mehrdad Ghodoussi, expected to have a large say in the day-to-day running of the club as directors. Staveley was also involved in the high-profile purchase of Manchester City by Sheikh Mansour of the Abu Dhabi royal family in 2008.
Staveley, who once dated Prince Andrew, said: ‘This is a long-term investment. We are excited about the future prospects for Newcastle United. We intend to instill a united philosophy across the Club, establish a clear purpose, and help provide leadership that will allow Newcastle United to go on to big achievements over the long term.
‘Our ambition is aligned with the fans – to create a consistently successful team that’s regularly competing for major trophies and generates pride across the globe.’
Left: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). Right: Chairman of the Chairman of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) Yasir al-Rumayyan Yasir al-Rumayyan. It is believed that PIF will have a 80 percent stake in the club
Newcastle United fans celebrate the sale of the club to the Consortium of Amanda Stavely, Jamie Rueben and PIF Scenes at St. James’s Park, Newcastle as news of a takeover emerges on Thursday
Newcastle United supporters celebrate in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England Thursday Oct. 7, 2021
Jubilant Newcastle United fans gather outside St James’ Park on Thursday night, following the news that Newcastle United have been taken over in a deal backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF)
A view from St James’ Park stadium shows Newcastle United fans celebrating following the news of the takeover
Who is the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman? Controversial royal accused of being the architect behind the war in Yemen
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is known as the true power behind the throne in Saudi Arabia.
His father, King Salman, was made ruler in 2015, and his son has been given a huge amount of say in how the country is government.
He won plaudits from Western leaders after he introduced some moderate reforms – allowing women in Saudi Arabia to drive for the first time ever and introducing cinemas to the country.
The Crown Prince – known simply as MBS – also reigned in the country’s fierce and ultra conservative religious police.
Leaders including Theresa May and Donald Trump have rolled out the red carpet for him during his lavish visits.
But the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi has severely damaged his reputation.
MBS has been accused of ordering the journalist’s murder, and the killing sparked calls for him to be replaced as Crown Prince.
While the Saudi authorities have publicly insisted the Prince does not have blood on his hands and did not order the killing, his reputation has been badly tarnished.
He also has directed the Saudi war in Yemen, were the kingdom has been accused of breaching international human rights law and plunging millions into famine.
And questions were already raised about how ruthlessly he will crush opposition after he imprisoned Saudi royals in the country’s five star Ritz hotel last year.
He said he locked them up in a massive anti-corruption drove.
But his critics said that the move was a way for MBS to purge his political rivals.
The Reuben brothers, who made their fortune in property development – much in the local area – and have a net worth of £16bn, will take the other 10 per cent. In 2020 they were named as the second richest family in the UK.
Jamie Reuben of RB Sports & Media, said: ‘We look forward to a great future for Newcastle United. Newcastle is a fantastic city, which is why our family has been investing heavily in the area for many years. To become part of this great Club and its amazing fans is a privilege.
‘We will build a true community Club, based upon our family’s knowledge of the city and in line with our plans that have been worked on closely with Newcastle City Council to deliver long-term sustainable growth for the area.’
While there are well-publicised moral concerns over so-called Saudi Arabian ‘sportswashing’, as the oil rich nation seeks to soften its overseas image, the Magpies’ fanbase are clearly not concerned from where their saviours arrive.
A poll undertaken by the Newcastle United Supporters Trust showed 93.8 percent of the club’s fans were in favour of the takeover.
Hundreds of Newcastle’s so-called Toon Army supporters, who have protested against Ashley’s running of the club, gathered outside the stadium in the drizzle throughout the day, buoyed by news of the imminent takeover.
Just after 5pm they opened cans of beer and broke into renditions of club anthem ‘Blaydon Races’ to celebrate the end of 14 years of dross under the ownership of Mike Ashley.
The last time there was such excitement on a non match day was when Alan Shearer signed for a then world record 15 million pounds ($20.44 million) in 1996 when the club were mixing it with big hitters.
‘Yesssssssss. We can dare to hope again!’ Shearer, whose statue stands outside the gates, said.
It was a sentiment shared by all Magpies fans after more than a decade of doom and gloom.
‘We’ve got our club back,’ they chanted.
Saudi Arabia has increasingly sought high-profile sports assets, including signing a 10-year deal to stage F1 and hosting Anthony Joshua’s heavyweight title fight in 2019.
Having a club with Newcastle’s potential in its locker is a major boon for the oil-rich nation.
Saudi Arabia’s government denies allegations of human rights abuses and says it is protecting national security from extremists and external actors.
Newcastle become the 14th current Premier League club to have majority foreign owners and fans hope it heralds a new era like that at Manchester City who have dominated English football since being bought by Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour in 2008.
For years, Newcastle fans have been protesting against Ashley, urging him to sell their club
French club Paris St-Germain have also made an impact under Qatari ownership with a host of mega-money signings.
Newcastle’s takeover ends the 14-year ownership of Ashley whose stewardship has been deeply unpopular, with the supporters accusing him of under-investment and lack of ambition.
Since Ashley bought the sleeping giants, who last won a domestic trophy in 1995 and have not been top-flight champions since 1927, they have twice been relegated from the Premier League and have not finished higher than 10th since 2012.
Another relegation battle is looming with the team failing to win any of their opening seven league games and currently sitting second from bottom of the table and fans have been calling for Ashley and manager Steve Bruce to leave the club.
Present manager Steve Bruce is deeply unpopular — held up as proof of Ashley’s lack of ambition, hired to fight relegation battles with cut-price signings rather than challenge the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool.
It has, however, not always been like this.
For a while at the start of the Premier League era, in the early 1990s, when former player Kevin Keegan arrived like a returning Messiah, it appeared that anything was possible alongside the banks of the River Tyne.
With millionaire local property developer John Hall as chairman, the old stadium was revamped and Keegan was given the funds to create a team in his image with the likes of Peter Beardsley, Andy Cole, David Ginola, Robert Lee and Colombian firecracker Faustino Asprilla, to name but a few, arriving.
Newcastle finished third in the Premier League in 1994, their first season back in the top flight, having almost fallen into the third-tier a couple of years earlier.
Dubbed the ‘The Great Entertainers’, Newcastle finished runners-up in 1996 after suffering a late collapse that saw them pipped by Manchester United in a finale to a season that will forever be remembered for Keegan’s wide-eyed ‘I will love it’ rant at Alex Ferguson.
With Shearer signed to lead the line they also came second to Manchester United a year later and Keegan left in 1997, the same year Freddy Shepherd replaced Hall as chairman.
Kenny Dalglish and Ruud Gullit both failed and although former England manager Bobby Robson staged a renaissance with fourth and third-placed finishes, he was sacked in 2004, precipitating a downward spiral.
The days when Ginola, Beardsley, Les Ferdinand, Shearer and the like had the Toon Army in dreamland now seem like a distant memory — but as Shearer said the dream is alive again.
The fans at St James’ Park are gearing up for some huge changes following Ashley’s departure
The Premier League, run by Richard Masters (pictured), gave the green light for the takeover after legal disputes were settled