Newcastle players, Saudi Jets and Premier League headaches

Long before Newcastle United players and coaches set off for a hot-weather training camp in Saudi Arabia this week, the Premier League f...


Long before Newcastle United players and coaches set off for a hot-weather training camp in Saudi Arabia this week, the Premier League football team’s new owners faced the daunting task of persuading the world that the team would not be an asset of the Saudi state.

It was not easy to defend: 80% of Newcastle, after all, belongs now to the Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. The chairman of the PIF is Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and de facto ruler.

Even the Premier League have in the past expressed concerns over connections. This delayed the sale of Newcastle for more than a year until, according to Premier League officials, the deal was finally cleared in October after receiving unspecified ‘legally binding assurances’ that the Saudi state would not control the team of football.

Those questions only came up again this week, however, when the Newcastle players and coaching staff descended the steps of their private charter flight to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Monday. Photos of the arrival of the team showed the plane was operated by a company called Alpha Star, an aviation company whose parent company was seized by Prince Mohammed after a purge of royals and businessmen shortly afterwards that he has become the probable heir to the Saudi throne.

The identity of the company and its entry have been documented as part of a lawsuit in Canada brought by the Saudi state against a former senior intelligence official. Alpha Star and its sister company, Sky Prime, another aerospace supplier whose aircraft carried the group of assassins who killed and dismembered dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in 2018, were seized and transferred to the $400 billion sovereign wealth fund – by order of Prince Mohammed, according to legal documents – in 2017.

The documents revealing the link between the airlines and the country’s leader are part of a long corruption lawsuit brought by a group of Saudi state-owned companies against former intelligence official Saad Aljabri, a close confidant of Mohammed bin Nayef, a former interior agent. minister whom Prince Mohammed ousted as crown prince in 2017.

But the use of planes – belonging to a company created and formerly under contract with the Saudi state to transport extremists and terrorism suspects – also made it harder, again, for Newcastle’s new UK-based owners and managers to claim an arm’s length relationship with their Saudi partners in the PIF

Public ownership of clubs has become one of the most controversial topics in European football in recent years, with Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City both using the seemingly bottomless wealth of their Gulf owners to reshape the economy and the competitive balance of sport. Newcastle fans have generally welcomed the arrival of Saudi wealth – and the potential for on-field revival – at their club, although critics have raised questions about foreign influence and human rights concerns. the man.

Before his side left England, Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe was pressed for the goal during the team’s week-long visit to Saudi Arabia. Howe insisted the motivations were purely sporting, an effort to fine-tune the team’s preparations in a hot climate ahead of the second half of the season. But the club has come under fire from human rights groups like Amnesty International, who said the trip risked becoming “a glorified public relations exercise for the government of Mohammed bin Salman”.

Friday, Howe and his players would have met representatives of the PIF, whose advice includes half a dozen senior Saudi government officials.

“I think it just goes to show, #1, why the sale was problematic in the first place and not separated from the Saudi state,” said Adam Coogle, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights. Watch, about the trip. “No. 2, it shows they don’t care. They’re just going to flaunt it. They’re not even trying to pretend it’s not what it is.

A spokesperson for PIF declined a request for comment. The Premier League and Newcastle United refused similar requests on Friday.

The relationship between Newcastle and Saudi Arabia, however, continues to trouble the Premier League. Late last year, the league changed its sponsorship regulations after rivals raised concerns about the prospect of a sudden rush of Saudi money into the team’s accounts through agreements with companies related to its ownership in the Gulf.

As part of a compromise agreement, the league said it would assess all “related party” sponsorships to ensure the deals were within fair market value.

Since the takeover, Premier League chief executive Richard Masters has deflected questions about his organization’s ability to ensure Newcastle have not breached assurances about their separation from the state. When asked in November how the league would even know if the local ownership group was following Prince Mohammed’s orders, Masters acknowledged the league could not know.

“In that case, I don’t think we would know,” he said. “I don’t think that’s going to happen. There are legally binding assurances that the state will essentially not be in charge of the club. If we find evidence to the contrary, we may remove the consortium as owners of the club. It’s heard. »



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Newsrust - US Top News: Newcastle players, Saudi Jets and Premier League headaches
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