Premier League club Newcastle United have been sold to Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund after a protracted takeover and legal fight involving concerns about piracy and rights abuses in the kingdom.
The Stg 300 million ($A559 million) takeover by the Saudi Public Investment Fund initially collapsed last year over concerns about how much control the kingdom’s leadership would have in the running of Newcastle.
PIF has had to offer assurances to the Premier League that its chairman, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and in turn the state will not have any control of the running of the club.
“We are extremely proud to become the new owners of Newcastle United, one of the most famous clubs in English football,” PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan said on Thursday.
The PIF will be the majority partner alongside wealthy British-based Reuben brothers and financier Amanda Staveley.
The Premier League said “the club has been sold to the consortium with immediate effect” following the completion of its owners’ and directors’ test.
“The Premier League has now received legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle United Football Club,” it added.
The takeover ends the 14-year ownership by British retail tycoon Mike Ashley, who has been widely viewed as a figure of scorn in the one-club city, whose St James’ Park stadium is affectionately dubbed “the cathedral on the hill.”
Ashley’s ownership has been marked by chronic underinvestment in the playing squad, his use of Newcastle as a vehicle to promote his business interests, and of a general lack of ambition despite the club attracting regular home crowds of more than 50,000.
Newcastle haven’t won a major trophy since the 1955 FA Cup and their last league title was in 1927 but the north-east English club have long been seen as a slumbering giant.
The club will now be seeking a transformation in the same manner enjoyed by Manchester City in 2008 after their takeover by another Middle Eastern entity – Abu Dhabi.
Staveley, who brokered the City takeover, is also fronting the Saudi takeover of Newcastle.
It is four years since Staveley attempted to buy Newcastle, but the most recent bid collapsed last year amid legal battles.
A key impediment to the takeover was the piracy in Saudi Arabia of sports broadcasts by Qatari-owned beIN – including of Premier League games.
Saudi Arabia declared beIN illegal in 2017 as the nation launched a wider economic and diplomatic boycott of Qatar alongside the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain over accusations Doha supports extremism. The tiny, super-rich nation of Qatar denied the charge.
It is understood the Saudi government has now informed beIN – which had initially asked the Premier League to block the Newcastle sale – that its channels will be allowed to broadcast in the country for the first time since the start of the Gulf diplomatic dispute.
Amnesty International wrote to league chief executive Richard Masters to say the takeover could be exploited by Saudi Arabia to cover up “deeply immoral” breaches of international law, citing human rights violations and the role of the crown prince.