The Premier League saw an offer of arbitration declined over the ownership issue that became a key obstacle before a takeover of Newcastle United collapsed.
Premier League chief executive Richard Masters has addressed the takeover bid for the first time in public, responding to a series of questions pitched to him by Chi Onwurah, the Labour MP for Newcastle Central.
A consortium led by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund (PIF) pulled out of a bid to buy the club at the end of July. It was a proposed £300million purchase, backed by the PIF, whose chairman is Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Many Newcastle supporters had welcomed the attempted takeover, given the unpopularity of current owner Mike Ashley and the possibility of major new investment in the club potentially leading to a transfer spree.
Saudi Arabia’s human rights record was cited by some opponents to the deal as a factor that should have precluded a takeover from happening, while representatives of the country were found by the World Trade Organization to have enabled the piracy of Premier League matches that were being broadcasted legally by beIN SPORTS.
Amanda Staveley, the businesswoman at the centre of the bid negotiations, claimed the Premier League attempted to make the Saudi state a “director”.
Masters, in his letter on Friday, did not explicitly say the Premier League felt the Saudi state would effectively become Newcastle’s owners, but he explained “one entity” caused a disagreement, and said the consortium “chose not to take up” the arbitration offer.
He said “intellectual property infringements” featured among disqualifying factors in the Premier League’s owners’ and directors’ test but stressed the Newcastle takeover had not reached the stage of such factors being put to the test.
Masters wrote: “In June, the Premier League board made a clear determination as to which entities it believed would have control over the club following the proposed acquisition, in accordance with the Premier League rules.
“Subsequently, the Premier League then asked each such person or entity to provide the Premier League with additional information, which would then have been used to consider the assessment of any possible disqualifying events.
“In this matter, the consortium disagreed with the Premier League’s determination that one entity would fall within the criteria requiring the provision of this information.
“The Premier League recognised this dispute and offered the consortium the ability to have the matter determined by an independent arbitral tribunal if it wished to challenge the conclusion of the board.
Pleased to have received a response from @premierleague to my questions on #nufctakeover. It acknowledges importance of fans & provides some new info but not the reassurance or transparency I know fans want #NUFC https://t.co/3n0eOd1btE
— Chi Onwurah (@ChiOnwurah) August 14, 2020
“The consortium chose not to take up that offer, but nor did it procure the provision of the additional information. Later, it [or PIF specifically] voluntarily withdrew from the process.
“This meant there was never any point where the Premier League board was asked to make an assessment on the suitability of all members of the consortium.”
Masters added: “The Premier League is reviewing its owners’ and directors’ test in the coming months to ensure it remains robust and fair to all interested stakeholders.”
Amnesty International had claimed the takeover bid was an attempt by Saudi Arabia to “sportswash” its international reputation.
Reacting to Friday’s letter from Masters, Onwurah said the Premier League response “provides some new info but not the reassurance or transparency I know fans want”.
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