Newcastle United’s Saudi Arabian-led takeover could be complicated by the World Trade Organisation ruling that the country helped breach international piracy laws.
The proposed £300m deal is 80% financed by the country’s Public Investment Fund, whose chairman is Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. It is currently awaiting approval via the Premier League’s owners’ and directors’ test, which looks into the background of prospective club owners.
Part of that involves analysing whether there has been any alleged involvement in criminality. Premier League lawyers have been assessing the deal for two months.
The WTO, which deals with the global rules of trade between nations, has been assessing the conduct of Saudi Arabia in relation to the broadcaster beoutQ, which has been accused of illegally broadcasting a range of professional sport, including Premier League matches.
The rights to show Premier League games in the Middle East belong to Qatar-based beIN Sports, who are currently in the middle of a three-year deal with the Premier League worth £400m.
Saudi Arabia has always denied aiding the beoutQ operation and has insisted there is no link between its government and the alleged piracy.
But in its judgement, issued on Tuesday, the WTO found that Saudi Arabia had facilitated the beoutQ operation and had “acted in a manner inconsistent” with international law protecting intellectual property rights.
The WTO also called for the country to “bring its measures into conformity with its obligations” under international law. The Premier League, Fifa, Uefa, La Liga and the Bundesliga have all tried to bring about proceedings in Saudi courts, but have been blocked by the country’s government.
The case was brought to the WTO’s attention by Qatar, which is engaged in a long-running diplomatic row with Saudi Arabia. BeIN Sport chief executive Yousef al-Obaidly has previously written to the chairs of Premier League clubs warning them against the Newcastle takeover.
In the letter, he accused the Saudi government of the “facilitation of the near three-year theft of the Premier League’s commercial rights – and in turn your club’s commercial revenues – through its backing of the huge-scale beoutQ pirate service”.
He has also written to Premier League chief executive Richard Masters, calling for the league to “fully investigate” the piracy claims.
In addition, Masters has said he will “fully consider” human rights concerns arising from Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the takeover.
Current owner Mike Ashley bought Newcastle in 2007 and put the club up for sale in 2017.
Uefa said it “welcomes” the report and its conclusions.
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By BBC Sports