Premier League urged to review Saudi-Newcastle deal

Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud
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GENEVA (AP) — The Premier League was urged Thursday to review a legally binding promise made by the owners of English soccer club Newcastle in 2021 that Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund was separate from the country’s government.

An American court document filed by lawyers for Saudi-backed LIV Golf in a case against the PGA Tour revealed this week claimed the Public Investment Fund should be regarded as “a foreign state.”

The document appeared to contradict a legal assurance accepted by the Premier League when a protracted takeover of Newcastle was completed in October 2021 with PIF having an 80% ownership stake.

At that time, Premier League chief executive Richard Masters told the BBC in an interview the Saudi state would not control Newcastle and, if this was proved untrue, “we can remove the consortium as owners.”

Human rights group Amnesty International, which campaigned against the takeover deal, said Thursday it should be looked at again.

“The Premier League will surely need to re-examine the assurances made about the non-involvement of the Saudi authorities in the Newcastle deal,” Amnesty economic affairs director Peter Frankental said in a statement.

“It was always stretching credulity to breaking point to imagine that the Saudi state wasn’t directing the buyout,” Frankental said, adding the deal had “the ultimate aim of using the club as a component in its wider sportswashing efforts.”

The Premier League on Thursday declined to comment on the issue.

The 300 million pound ($358 million) takeover was popular with most Newcastle fans. The club has moved from the Premier League’s relegation zone 17 months ago to contending for a place in the Champions League this season. In some games, the team has worn a white and green jersey like the Saudi national team.

In the United States court case, lawyers for LIV Golf argued 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, adding the discovery order was “an extraordinary infringement on the sovereignty of a foreign state.”

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

At a soccer industry conference in London on Thursday, Newcastle co-owner Amanda Staveley described PIF as “effectively a pension fund.”

“They are managing money for future generations,” Staveley said at the Financial Times Business of Football Summit during a panel discussion.

The panel did not address the American court document.