Saudi Arabia's $373 million takeover of Newcastle United football club is facing a major hurdle with Premier League bosses set to scrutinise criminal offences carried out by potential owners.
The deal between Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), belonging to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, Newcastle United owner, St James Holdings Ltd and Staveley's PCP Capital Group, is said to be nearing completion.
All the paperwork is currently with the Premier League governing body, which is going through the checks for the Saudi-based consortium, Sky Sports reported. One of the checks will look to see if Premier League rules, which were tightened in 2017, were broken. The stricter regulations bar potential owners if they committed an act in a foreign jurisdiction that would be considered a criminal offence in the UK, even if it is not illegal in their home territory.
Such rules have been breached by the Saudis according to the Qataris, who have sent a letter to Premier League bosses warning of the "dangers" of allowing the acquisition of Newcastle United to go through.
In the letter first reported by the Times, Qatari sports broadcaster beIN, which has a deal worth $617 million with 20 English clubs in the top tier, making it English football's biggest overseas broadcast partner, demanded the deal be blocked.
It claimed that Saudi was behind a pirate Arabic-language television network called beoutQ. The piracy case resulted in the Saudis being sued for $1 billion two years ago for streaming games which beIN held the rights for. The Saudis denied the allegations.
Remarks made by the Premier League at the time are likely to prove significant now, bosses of English football appeared to back the Qataris by threatening to sue the Saudi pirate channel.
In the letter to the Premier League, Chief Executive of the beIN Media Group, Yousef Al-Obaidly, said: "The danger of allowing the acquisition of a controlling or material interest (whether acquired directly or indirectly) in a major Premier League club by what is effectively the Saudi Arabian government cannot be ignored."
Al-Obaidly urged the league to consider Riyadh's "past and continuing illegal actions and their direct impact upon the commercial interests of the Premier League, its member clubs, its broadcast partners and football in general."
After pointing to beIN's huge investment in English football Al-Obaidly made remarks that this could be viewed as a veiled threat warning that "It is no exaggeration to say that the future economic model of football is at stake."
The Qataris are not the only ones protesting against the deal. World football's governing body FIFA has sent a letter to the British government criticising the Saudi takeover of Newcastle. FIFA's Ethics and Regulation Watch (FERW) pointed to reports that the deal was part of the kingdom's attempt to "sportswash" its poor human rights record.
Human rights groups and activists, such as Amnesty International, have also applied pressure by describing the Newcastle takeover as an attempt to "sportswash" its poor image.