Revealed! The reasons Mike Ashley has instructed legal examination of Newcastle United takeover tests by Premier League

Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley has employed two top QCs to exploit ‘cracks’ in the Premier League owners’ and directors’ test in hope of pushing through the Saudi deal.

Monday, 14th September 2020, 11:59 am

The Gazette has learned Ashley remains committed to getting the PCP Capital Partners, Reuben Brothers and Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia deal completed – and the threat of legal action is understood to be with the end goal of a change of ownership, not just compensation or answers.

Despite pulling out in July, the consortium have been working on a deal behind the scenes, away from the media spotlight and public eye.

And while doubts have been cast about the commitment of PIF, all three parties involved in the potential buyout are still keen for the transaction to be completed, with Amanda Staveley’s PCP leading the negotiations and the Saudis said to be happy to return to the table IF the Premier League confirm concessions in their demands.

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LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 10: Owner of Sports Direct and Newcastle United, Mike Ashley (L), arrives at the High Court on July 10, 2017 in London, England. Mr Ashley is defending himself against a lawsuit filed by former business associate Jeff Blue. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

The Gazette understands ALL directors put forward by the consortium – and organisations named and directly involved – have passed the Premier League’s owners and directors test.

But the league will still not sign off on the deal as they believe the heads of the kingdom should be run through the tests, de facto Saudi leader Mohammed bin Salman could well be included in that list. This was said to be seen as ‘deeply embarrassing’ to the Middle Eastern kingdom, who believe they’ve jumped through every hoop required of the governing body.

The league are understood to feel that, with legal backing, the Saudi state could exert influence over the football club and would in effect be a ‘shadow director’.

This is something refuted by the consortium, with a letter hand-delivered by Newcastle chairman-in-waiting Yasir Al-Rumayyan, from Riyadh to Premier League offices, during lockdown.

Further documents, signed off by Saudi royals, said to make clear distinctions between the state and PIF have, in the last few weeks, been batted back by the Premier League, via Ashley’s lawyers Dentons. It’s believed the Premier League have asked or received clarification on owners and directors test issues more than 20 times from the relevant parties.

Now, in what is being seen as a hugely significant move, Dentons have entrusted the two top QCs to take the case to the Premier League.

Blackstone Chambers today issued a statement. It reads: “Shaheed Fatima QC and Nick De Marco QC are acting for Newcastle United FC and Mike Ashley (instructed by Dentons) in a dispute with the Premier League about its rejection of a takeover bid made by PCP Capital Partners, the Reuben Brothers and the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia (PIF) based on its Owners and Directors test.”

This is being seen as a warning shot to the Premier League, following their recent actions – described by sources as ‘constant shifting of the goalposts’ – as the consortium continue to apply pressure, with a ramping up of political leaning in recent weeks.

Last week Ashley released an explosive statement via the club website in which he called out Premier League CEO Richard Masters – who unexpectedly broke silence on the deal the same day – and threatened the legal angle.

It read: “Newcastle United can confirm that the Premier League has rejected a takeover bid made by PCP Capital Partners, the Reuben Brothers and the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia (PIF) based on its Owners and Directors test.

"This conclusion has been reached despite the club providing the Premier League with overwhelming evidence and legal opinions that PIF is independent and autonomous of the Saudi Arabian government.

"The club and its owners do not accept that Premier League chief executive Richard Masters and the Premier League have acted appropriately in relation to this matter and will be considering all relevant options available to them.

"Mike Ashley understands fans’ frustrations and would like to reassure them that he has been fully committed to ensuring this takeover process reached completion as he felt it was in the best interests of the club. Mike continues to be fully supportive to Steve Bruce, the players and all the staff and wishes them well for the upcoming season."

Despite Ashley’s claims, the Premier League are yet to complete the owners’ and directors’ test as things stand.

Ashley and the consortium are understood to have been given positive assurances the deal would eventually be ‘green-lighted’ recently, only for the Premier League to add caveats to the deal, ones which again proved a step too far for the Saudis.

De Marco is, according to his employer's website, blackstonechambers.com, "one of only two barristers in England with a practice exclusively in sports related disputes" and "is ranked as one of the leading barristers in Sports Law".

His past clients have included Premier League sides Manchester United, Manchester City, West Ham United, Leicester City and Aston Villa as well as acting on behalf of England internationals Harry Kane, Jordan Henderson and Jamie Vardy and ex-United heroes Peter Beardsley, Andy Cole and Jonas Gutierrez. Controversial world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury and equally out-spoken European 'super agent' Mino Raiola have also used his services.

Fatima’s expertise comes in the fields of “commercial law, civil liberties/human rights, public law/regulatory law and public international law”, according to her profile on the chambers’ website.

It continues: “Many of her cases involve an international dimension and aspects of either conflict of laws or public international law.”

Her previous clients include the states of Bahrain, Cyprus, Iran, Rwanda, Russia and the UK as well as the likes of Amnesty, Justice, Liberty, Redress, the UN Refugee Agency, World Bank Group, Miramax; Royal Mail and Volkswagen.

She has also worked on behalf of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Home Office, Treasury and Prince Abdul Aziz of KSA.

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