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Newcastle takeover: Police probe anti-Saudi Arabia banner at Crystal Palace game

Banner depicted several offences kingdom is accused of, including civil rights abuses, murder and censorship
The banner, unveiled during the sides' 1-1 draw, depicts an image of PIF about to behead a magpie, as fans in the background chanted: 'We’ve got our club back" (AFP)

Police are investigating a banner displayed by Crystal Palace football fans at Selhurst Park in south London on Saturday that spoke out against Newcastle United's takeover by a Saudi Arabia-led consortium.

Newcastle were sold to a group consisting of Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF), PCP Capital Partners and RB Sports & Media earlier this month after being given the go-ahead by the Premier League.

The banner, unveiled during the two Premier League sides' 1-1 draw, depicted an image of PIF about to behead a magpie, as fans in the background chanted: "We've got our club back."

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Newcastle are commonly referred to as "the magpies" because their black-and-white football strip is similar to the bird's colouring.

The image also showed Premier League chief executive Richard Masters giving a thumbs-up to a bag of money, and listed several offences that rights groups say the kingdom is responsible for, with a tick next to each one: terrorism, beheadings, civil rights abuses, murder, persecution and censorship.

"On Saturday 23 October police received a report of an offensive banner displayed by Crystal Palace fans," Croydon Metropolitan Police said on Twitter.

"Officers are assessing the information and carrying out enquiries. Any allegations of racist abuse will be taken very seriously."

'Total hypocrisy'

Palace fan group Holmesdale Fanatics said they were responsible for the banner and continued their attack on the Newcastle takeover in a statement on Twitter.

"The Saudi led takeover of Newcastle has rightly received widespread condemnation and anger," it said.

"To give the 'thumbs up' to this deal at a time when the Premier League is promoting the women's game and inclusive initiatives such as rainbow armbands, shows the total hypocrisy at play and demonstrates the League's soulless agenda where profits trump all."

The Newcastle takeover was 80 percent financed by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

However, the Premier League received "legally binding" assurances that there was clear separation between PIF and the government of Saudi Arabia.

The fans group's statement said this decision "made a mockery" of the Premier League's "Owners and Directors" test.

Khashoggi death

Saudi Arabia has been accused of committing war crimes during the ongoing civil war in Yemen, detaining and torturing women's rights activists, and of carrying out hundreds of executions since King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud took the throne in 2015.

Saudi Arabia has been accused of of attempting to "sportswash" abuses through the purchase of Newcastle as well by staging several high-profile sports events.

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The crown prince also stands accused by the United Nations and CIA of being directly involved in the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Middle East Eye and Washington Post columnist, in October 2018.

Khashoggi's widow, Hatice Cengiz, and her legal team are continuing to pursue a lawsuit against the prince, with the CIA believing that the kingdom's de facto ruler approved the killing in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul.

The Premier League was not immediately available to comment, Reuters said.

Saudi Arabia's government denies allegations of human rights abuses and says it is protecting national security from extremists and external actors.

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