Saudi Arabia's MBS reportedly asked Boris Johnson to intervene in Newcastle sale
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman personally called on UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to “correct” the English Premier League’s decision to block a Saudi bid to take over the football club Newcastle United, claim reports.
Exchanges seen by the Daily Mail allegedly show Mohammed bin Salman warning Johnson that Britain’s relationship with Saudi Arabia would be damaged if the attempted buyout of Newcastle United failed to go through.
“We expect the English Premier League to reconsider and correct its wrong conclusion,” read one message sent by the crown prince to Johnson, according to the British newspaper.
The message then prompted the prime minister to ask his senior aide Eddie Lister to investigate the issue.
Lister said on Wednesday night that the Saudis “were getting upset” by the Premier League’s decision.
“We were not lobbying for them to buy it or not to buy it,” Lister told the Daily Mail.
“We wanted them (Premier League) to be straightforward and say yes or no, don’t leave (the Saudis) dangling.”
The Daily Mail also reported that documents released this week by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) revealed the British government department had written in June 2020 to the Premier League about Newcastle's "imminent" takeover.
A UK government spokesperson denied that it had any involvement in talks over the sale of Newcastle United.
"While we welcome overseas investment, this was a commercial matter for the parties concerned and the government was not involved at any point in the takeover talks on the sale of Newcastle United," a spokesperson told the BBC.
A consortium led by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) withdrew its interest in the club after the Premier League blocked the move.
The Saudi crown prince chairs the PIF and, of the fund’s eight other board members, six are Saudi government ministers, and one is a royal court adviser.
The takeover process
In September, Newcastle confirmed that the Premier League had rejected the takeover bid and emphasised its disapproval of the process.
“This conclusion has been reached despite the club providing the Premier League with overwhelming evidence and legal opinions that PIF is independent and autonomous of the Saudi Arabian government,” a club statement read on Wednesday evening.
Amanda Staveley, one of the leading members of the investment group that sought to buy the club, said last July that the takeover failed partly due to the league demanding that the Saudi state become a director of the football club.
Johnson also questioned the Premier League's decision and demanded it release a statement on why the Saudis withdrew its bid and why the process took so long.
The takeover came under intense scrutiny when the World Trade Organisation in June 2020 said that prominent Saudi nationals promoted beoutQ, an illegal pirate network that streamed content from Qatar’s beIN Sports.
The deal was also criticised from the outset by human rights advocates, who accused Saudi Arabia of using Newcastle United to “sportswash” its human rights record.
Among those criticising the proposed Saudi takeover was Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was critical of Mohammed bin Salman's rule in Saudi Arabia.
Fans from Newcastle's Arab communities also told Middle East Eye they welcomed the collapse of the proposed takeover. Despite the criticism, many Newcastle fans were angered by the Premier League's decision to block the takeover.
“As fans, we are heartbroken. It sounds dramatic, but we have suffered for 13 years under (current club owner Mike) Ashley through a lack of interest and investment in the club,” Newcastle fan Michelle George told the BBC.
“The fact it played out how it did, and for the length of time it did and then for the news to break, and we still don’t have the full picture, it’s left fans devastated,” she said.
A petition calling on the UK government to launch an independent investigation into the Premier League's takeover process has received over 110,000 signatures.
More than 6,000 Newcastle United fans also lobbied their local members of parliament to put pressure on the league. Among them was South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck, who demanded answers and greater transparency.