The Premier League is not commenting on the Public Investment Fund’s (PIF) argument in a US court that they are a “sovereign body of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”, a position which appears to contradict the reasons given for approving the controversial takeover of Newcastle in October 2021.
This is despite chief executive Richard Masters saying at the time that the Premier League had received “legally binding assurances that effectively the state will not be liable for the club” and that if there is “evidence to the contrary, we can remove the consortium as owners of the club”.
The development comes as part of a legal battle between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf, another highly controversial PIF sports project. A federal judge had ordered the fund to hand over documents and ruled that its governor, Yasir Al-Rumayyan – who is also the chairman of Newcastle United – must sit for depositions from the PGA Tour’s lawyers. The court had rejected PIF’s claim of sovereign immunity and lack of jurisdiction.
In response, the fund filed an amicus brief seeking to vacate the discovery order, arguing that it creates an “unprecedented exception” and compliance with it would require them to violate Saudi law.
The introduction reads: “The order is an extraordinary violation of the sovereignty of a foreign state that is far from justified here. The Public Investment Fund (“PIF”) and His Excellency Yasir Othman Al Rmayyan (“HE”) are not ordinary parties subject to basic relevance standards of discovery. It is a sovereign body of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and an acting minister of the Saudi government…”
This is directly related to the protracted process that led to the takeover of 80% of Newcastle United by Public Investment as part of a joint venture.
In initial attempts to purchase the club in the first half of 2020, ‘Form Four’ of the Owners and Managers Test was never completed. Sources at the time said that since it would have been signed on behalf of the state, it would raise questions about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and a host of other human rights abuses.
The absence of participation in this form ultimately meant that the Premier League had no real decision to make for so long.
“A key element in the case was control,” said a person with knowledge of the process.
At the time, the Premier League offered arbitration to resolve the matter, which was rejected. The consortium temporarily withdrew.
This was only resolved when the PIF completed Form Four in the months before the October 2021 takeover, a development which was accompanied by “legally binding assurances” that the absolute monarchy “will not control Newcastle United Football Club”.
The Premier League was “comfortable” with the way the structures had been presented.
In November 2021, chief executive Masters gave an interview to BBC Sport where he was asked how the Premier League would know if the consortium was following the orders of the crown prince.
“In that case, I don’t think we would know. I don’t think it’s going to happen,” Masters said. “There are legally binding assurances that essentially the state will not be responsible for the club.
“If we find evidence to the contrary, we can remove the consortium as owners of the club. That’s understandable.”
The Premier League does not comment on developments.
Meanwhile, Peter Frankental, Director of Economic Affairs at Amnesty International UK, said it was the NGO’s view that: “It has always stretched credulity to the limit to imagine that the Saudi Arabian state did not direct the takeover of Newcastle United with ultimate purpose for the club to use as a component in its wider sports washing efforts.
“In the 18 months since the Newcastle market, the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia has deteriorated markedly, with dozens of executions following unfair trials, courts imprisoning peaceful critics and authorities continuing to block responsibility for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.
“There is an undeniable irony in the sovereign wealth fund’s statement emerging in a controversy over another arm of Saudi Arabia’s growing sports empire, but the simple fact is that Saudi sports washing affects many sports and governing bodies need to respond to it. much more efficiently.
“The Premier League will certainly need to review the assurances given about the non-involvement of the Saudi authorities in the Newcastle deal as there is still a Qatari bid for Manchester United currently on the table.”