By Andrew Warshaw
May 27 – The proposed £300 million takeover of Newcastle United by the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) fronted by controversial Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, has been thrown into doubt after reports that the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has found the Saudis breached international law by backing the pirating of Premier League matches.
The 130-page WTO report will be published in mid-June but a copy has apparently already been sent to the Premier League, according to the Guardian newspaper which said the WTO had firmly established that Saudi Arabia was behind the illegal transmission of Premier League matches via Saudi-backed pirate broadcaster beoutQ even though the rights in the Middle East and North Africa are the property of beIN Sports, owned by Saudi’s regional rival Qatar.
Last week it was reported in Saudi Arabia that the Premier League had approved the takeover by a consortium involving the Saudi group, the billionaire British-based property developers Reuben brothers plus financier Amanda Staveley who brokered the deal.
But the Guardian says the Premier League made submissions against Saudi Arabia as part of the WTO legal process.
FIFA, UEFA, the Premier League and others have already tried to take legal action against beoutQ in Saudi Arabia for illegally streaming matches, but nine local legal firms declined to take on the copyright case.
Subsequently a case was taken to the WTO, the highest judicial body that can rule on the matter. The Guardian says the WTO has now issued its ruling – finding that Saudi Arabia is in breach of international law.
The development is potentially a serious blow to PIF taking an 80% stake in the club since all new takeovers are subject to the Premier League’s owners and directors test to ascertain past history, governance record and suitability.
Saudi Arabia had previously claimed beoutQ originated in Cuba and Colombia, prompting the governments of both countries to issue firm denials. It later emerged that beoutQ was being broadcast from the Arabsat satellite, which is majority-owned by the Saudi state and has its headquarters in the country.
BeoutQ has since been removed from Arabsat. However, beoutQ illegal set-top boxes which allow the streaming of major broadcasters, including Sky, are still widely available widely across the region.
Amnesty International has urged the Premier League to consider blocking the takeover, saying that Bin Salman has been involved in a “sweeping crackdown on human rights”, while the fiancée of journalist Jamal Khashoggi – former columnist for the Washington Post, murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul – also wants the deal stopped.
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