Sports legal expert offers Premier League tests insight as Newcastle United Saudi takeover drags on

Newcastle United's Saudi-financed takeover hinges on whether the consortium provided 'inaccurate or misleading' information to the Premier League – that's the view of leading sports legal expert Nick De Marco QC.

Wednesday, 27th May 2020, 7:00 am
Updated Thursday, 28th May 2020, 9:40 am

But despite reports of the bid being 'in doubt' or 'at risk' due to recent paperwork filed with the top flight board, the Gazette understands those heading up the United deal are confident they've answered all questions asked of them by the Premier League – and that a green light will come in time.

A World Trade Organisation paper is the latest reported hold up for the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, Reuben Brothers and PCP Capital Partners deal. The report is said to point towards Saudi involvement in the piracy and theft of intellectual property from MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region Premier League rights holder BeIN Sports.

The Premier League was reportedly sent the 123-page ruling, which will be made public in June, from the WTO, an international trade dispute adjudicator.

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LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 04: Richard Masters, Chief Executive of Premier League, addresses journalists during a media briefing on February 04, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images for Premier League)

According to the Times, "the ruling, made on April 23, is understood to state that the Saudi government is connected to the beoutQ pirate satellite and streaming service".

And De Marco believes providing false information to the top flight board could prove fatal for the £300million deal.

"The way someone can fail a test is if they do not provide full information, or if they provide inaccurate or misleading information," he told Al Jazeera.

"So, for example, the Premier League might ask some questions about this WTO report and they might decide the information provided (by the buyers) may be inadequate or misleading – and this is where they may exercise discretion, as long as they act lawfully to refuse the bid."

The key to any refusal would be directly tying NUFC's majority shareholder-in-waiting, PIF, and Arabsat, who are part-owned by the Saudi state, and were claimed to be facilitating beoutQ’s pirate stream.

Any link is likely to run through de-facto kingdom ruler Mohammad Bin Salman.

The Saudi crown prince is currently chairman of PIF, with possible United chairman Yasir bin Othman Al-Rumayyan, sitting as governor of the nation's sovereign wealth fund.

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.

On the Newcastle deal, De Marco continued: "The test, for these sorts of things, is focused mainly on convictions in court, serious offences or offences of dishonesty.

"But it also refers to breaches of copyright law and being involved in piracy in some way.

"If the WTO report says what the newspapers say it does, it would seem this is an issue the Premier League could look at seriously."

As mentioned above, De Marco's credentials are second-to-none when it comes to his chosen field - the vehicle for his word, though, are not without agenda.

De Marco broadcast his views on Qatari state-funded broadcaster Al Jazeera, the news arm of BeIN, an organisation whose channels are currently banned in Saudi Arabia due to the ongoing Qatar diplomatic crisis, which broke out in 2017.

Back in September a statement by eight football governing bodies said it proved “beoutQ’s pirate broadcasts have been transmitted using satellite infrastructure owned and operated by Arabsat”.

The eight bodies to release the statement? FIFA, UEFA, Asian Football Confideration, the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga and Ligue 1.

Those allegations are vehemently denied by Arabsat.

“Arabsat, while rejecting the allegations made against it, deeply regrets irresponsible statements made by FIFA and other federations which contain disgraceful repetitions of the [Qatar-based pay-television broadcaster] beIN network’s claims," they said in a September statement.

It continued: “Arabsat warns against inaccurate media statements and reports in the face of final court rulings. Based on its belief in the rule of law, Arabsat will not engage in any media war with any entity regarding this subject.”

While passions run very high in the Middle East, they are running equally as high on Tyneside with the takeover decision now ticking over into its eighth week – this despite early estimates claiming the league's owners and directors test would take between two to four.

There is, of course, no deadline for the tests to be completed but the longer the wait, the more tension grows and critics, whatever their agendas, circle.

When contacted by the Gazette regarding the Saudi takeover of Newcastle, the Premier League said: "We aren’t able to comment on anything around this or give any guidance."

The Premier League owners and directors test continues to play out, with no official decision date set. Some have suggested the tests are done, while some have even gone as far to say they are yet to commence.

The Gazette was informed in April the 'exchange' was a matter of weeks away – there was an expectation the process would not drag out into late May or June, never mind beyond.

PIF – who would take an 80% stake in United, worth around £280million – are understood to have put forward Al-Rumayyan as a director, likely chairman. As well as that, the likes of former Saudi Arabia footballers Nawaf Al Temyat and Samir Al Jaber are thought to be under consideration for posts post-green light.

While PCP Capital Partners – set to take on the main day-to-day duties of running the club and a 10% stake – are understood to have put forward Amanda Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi for the board, while Jamie Reuben, of Reuben Brothers, is another who may become a director.

At present Reuben remains on the football board at Championship outfit QPR, and would have to resign from that post should he become involved at St James's Park.