Qatar's BeIN Sports urges Premier League to probe Saudi takeover of Newcastle
A key broadcast partner of England's Premier League (EPL) football division has called on club bosses to probe a Saudi Arabian bid to buy Newcastle United over piracy allegations, it said on Wednesday.
The Magpies, as the club based in the northeast of England are known, are on the verge of being sold to a Saudi-backed consortium that involves Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for around $368m.
It was reported on Tuesday that a non-refundable deposit of $21m has already been paid to current owner Mike Ashley as part of the deal.
The Premier League must decide if the new owners meet the criteria in its owners and directors test.
Qatar-based BeIN accuses Saudi of masterminding the pirate broadcast of BeIN output, which included EPL games, as part of a diplomatic dispute between Doha and Riyadh. Saudi denies the claims.
In a letter to top-flight English clubs, BeIN urges them to put pressure on league officials to investigate whether Saudi "directors, officers and other representatives" would be fit and proper to own Newcastle.
"My request is purely based on the Saudi Arabia government's role in the past and continuing theft of the commercial interests of your club, the Premier League, all its broadcast partners and football in general - which, I think you would agree, simply cannot go ignored," wrote BeIN Media chief executive Yousef al-Obaidly.
"It is no exaggeration to say that the future economic model of football is at stake."
Saudi Arabia along with its allies the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut all diplomatic, trade, and transport ties with Qatar in June 2017.
The four nations accused Doha of backing militant groups and seeking closer ties with Saudi regional-rival Iran - allegations Qatar vehemently denies.
BeIN alleges that following the breakdown in relations, Riyadh established a bootleg sport TV operation that stole BeIN's feeds.
The streams were then rebroadcast on satellites controlled from Riyadh, BeIN says.
Though the satellite broadcasts have ceased, BeIN maintains that the set-top boxes distributed by the "beoutQ" piracy operation still enable access to illegal sports broadcasts using internet technology.
BeIN's intervention follows a warning from rights group Amnesty that the Premier League "risks becoming a patsy" unless it takes a serious look at Saudi Arabia's human rights record in connection with the proposed takeover.
The takeover of Newcastle is being planned by a consortium largely financed by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, which is chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
On Monday, Middle East Eye reported that the takeover looked set to go ahead because Premier League rules prohibit minor criminal offenders from ownership, but do not require any scrutiny of those accused of being war criminals, human rights abusers or murderers.
Since the crown prince led a coalition that intervened in Yemen’s civil war in March 2015, Saudi forces have been accused by a United Nations human rights panel of committing war crimes – as have all other parties to the conflict.
Saudi forces have bombed schools, mosques, hospitals and markets, according to the UN and human rights groups.
Mohammed bin Salman became de facto ruler of the kingdom two years later, since when serious human rights abuses have continued unabated.
Muslim scholars have been executed, women’s rights activists have been detained and allegedly tortured and freedom of expression, association and belief continue to be denied.
The crown prince has also been accused by the CIA and UN experts of being directly responsible for the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist with the Washington Post and Middle East Eye, inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.
Human rights organisations have described the Newcastle bid as a “sportswashing” operation to launder the Saudi government’s reputation.