Saudi Crown Prince asked Boris Johnson to intervene in Newcastle United bid | Saudi Arabia

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman warned Boris Johnson in a text message that relations between the UK and Saudi Arabia would be damaged if the UK government did not step in to ‘correct’ the ‘wrong’ decision by the Premier League not to allow a £ 300million takeover. from Newcastle United last year.

Johnson has asked Edward Lister, his special envoy to the Gulf, to take up the matter, and Lord Lister is said to have told the Prime Minister: “I am on the case. I will inquire. “

The message stems from an attempt by a consortium led by the sovereign wealth fund, the Saudi Public Investment Fund, to buy Newcastle from its current owner, Mike Ashley.

A deal was reached in April last year, which was then considered by the Premier League under the test of its owners and managers, as the league had doubts about the independence of the bid team from – opinion of the Saudi government. In July, the consortium, which described itself as an “autonomous and purely commercial investor”, withdrew from the deal, accusing an “unpredictably protracted process”.

The Daily Mail, which first reported on Prince Mohammed’s attempt to lobby, said the message to Johnson was sent on June 27 and read: “We expect the English Premier League reconsider and correct its wrong conclusion. “

Lister told the Mail: “The Saudis were angry. We weren’t pressuring them to buy it or not. We wanted [the Premier League] to be frank and say “yes” or “no”, don’t go [the Saudis] swinging.

Johnson and his ministers have shown sympathy for the candidacy, but have no direct power to cancel the Premier League.

In August, Johnson, aware of the popularity of the offer with some football fans in North East England, wrote to members of the Newcastle United Supporters Trust: “I appreciate that many Newcastle fans were hoping that this takeover bid would go ahead and include. their sense of disappointment. I have seen the recent email sent to Newcastle supporters by the Independent Football Ombudsman and agree with their conclusion that the Premier League should make a statement on this matter. ”

Mike Ashley at St James Park in August 2015.
Mike Ashley at St James Park in August 2015. Photography: Scott Heppell / AP

Saudi Arabia has long been jealous of the involvement of their main rival Qatar in football club Paris Saint-Germain and the involvement of a UAE consortium in Manchester City.

In February this year, the Biden administration released a declassified intelligence report which concluded that Prince Mohammed approved the 2018 murder of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi. Human rights groups say the Saudi government has acted with impunity since 2018, including arbitrary arrests of critics of the prince, as well as his potential political rivals.

“The Newcastle takeover offer was a blatant example of Saudi sports washout, so it is worrying that the PM is in any way acceding to pressure from the crown prince over the deal,” the Prime Minister said. British Director of Amnesty International, Kate Allen.

Freedom of information requests show that the digital, culture, media and sports department bombed the Premier League in June 2020 with updates on how the decision on the candidacy was playing out. The DCMS said the Saudi Arabian Foreign Office was involved in responding to the decision, showing the political sensitivity of the issue to the British government.

DCMS argues that the emails do not represent pressure, but simply ask to keep Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden apprised of decisions.

Tensions at the top of the government over Prince Mohammed’s role are revealed in the diaries of former Foreign Minister Sir Alan Duncan, which were published this week.

On October 10, 2018, shortly after Khashoggi’s murder, Duncan wrote: “The Saudi problem is huge. He was murdered and sliced. He’s a game changer. I think we should take the initiative internationally by saying that we love the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia but have growing doubts about MBS. Aim for the man, not the country. We should… but we can’t afford it… so we won’t.

Elsewhere in his diary, he accuses Prince Mohammed of “bombing Yemen to pieces”. Duncan wrote that, acting on a whistleblower, he offered to provide Johnson with a list of missing Saudi princes.

Amnesty said: “As the crown prince pressured No.10, the world was still reeling from the fallout from Khashoggi’s murder, Saudi human rights activists like Loujain al-Hathloul languished in prison, and Saudi war planes were indiscriminately. bombing of Yemen.

“This whole tangled up case only underscores the need for a proper overhaul of the Premier League owners and managers test to ensure adequate human rights scrutiny to determine who is trying to acquire glamor and prestige of English football. “

A British government spokesman said the sale was a “commercial affair” and the government was not involved in the buyout talks at any time.

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