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Controversial Saudi purchase of Newcastle United expected to go through

Newcastle United football club badge [Kelly McClay/Flickr]
Newcastle United football club badge, 23 March 2019 [Kelly McClay/Flickr]

The controversial purchase of Newcastle United Football Club by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF) is set to go through, despite ongoing uncertainty over the $373 million deal. Sources close to the Gulf state's bid to buy one of the English Premier League's biggest clubs say that they do not believe the purchase is in danger of being derailed.

Over the past four months, the takeover bid led by a consortium of which the PIF is the main investor has been subjected to the league's "fit and proper ownership" test. One of the checks is to see if Premier League rules, which were tightened in 2017, have been broken. The stricter regulations bar potential owners if they are found to have committed an act in a foreign jurisdiction that would be considered a criminal offence in Britain, even if it is not illegal in their home territory.

Qatari based beIN Sports, which has a deal worth $617 million to broadcast the matches between the 20 English clubs in the top tier and one of the many parties objecting to the takeover, insists that such rules were breached by the Saudis. It is alleged that the Saudi government was behind a pirate Arabic-language television network called beoutQ which has apparently been broadcasting these matches illegally. The piracy case resulted in Riyadh being sued for $1 billion two years ago for streaming games which beIN held the rights for. The Saudis denied the allegations.

READ: European football ban on Abu Dhabi-owned Manchester City lifted

Previously, the English Premier League had said that the theft of intellectual property undermines multibillion-dollar broadcasting contracts, and threatened to take legal action against the Saudi channel.

Last week, Human Rights Watch (HRM) joined a long list of people denouncing the takeover, including Hatice Cengiz, the fiancée of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The English Premier League was urged to consider Riyadh's human rights record while assessing the Kingdom's bid to acquire Newcastle United FC, HRW said in a statement today.

Efforts to block the deal, however, look to be in vain. Despite the slow progress, the Independent has reported that the sale is set to go through, citing a source close to the process who shot down any suggestions that the bid is falling apart. "We don't see a legitimate reason to stop the sale," the source said.

While Newcastle United FC is expected to start next season under its current owner, the takeover bid is expected to be completed. The source played down concerns that the lack of movement from the Premier League and the negative publicity around the takeover would make the Saudis think twice. "The decision making-process [leading to involvement in the sale] was very deliberate. They [the PIF] do not make knee-jerk decisions."

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