Revealed: Newcastle President’s Ties to Saudi ‘Anti-Corruption’ Campaign

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Revealed: Newcastle President’s Ties to Saudi ‘Anti-Corruption’ Campaign


Yasir al-Rumayyan, the new non-executive chairman of Newcastle United, was embroiled in a controversial “anti-corruption” campaign in Saudi Arabia which included the transfer of assets in the name of the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

Details of Rumayyan’s role – including the transfer of a charter aircraft company to the Public Investment Fund (PIF), where he serves as governor – are contained in court documents that shed light on his relationship with Prince Mohammed.

There has been a lot of interest in the inner workings of the PIF after leading a consortium that acquired Newcastle United this month. The State Sovereign Fund is headed by Rumayyan and chaired by the Crown Prince.

The Saudi Arabia-led consortium withdrew its offer to acquire Newcastle in 2020 over fears that the PIF would be part of the Saudi state. But the Premier League approved the deal this month and said they had received “legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control” the club. The Premier League did not disclose the nature of the assurances.

Saudi internal documents filed with a civil court in Canada in an unrelated case show that in 2017, a close aide to Prince Mohammed ordered Rumayyan – who is officially referred to in the memos as ” his excellence ”and the“ supervisor ”of the PIF – to transfer 20 companies to the sovereign wealth fund as part of the anti-corruption campaign.

One of the 20 companies seized, according to the documents, was a charter aircraft company that was later used in the Saudi plot to kill Jamal Khashoggi. U.S. intelligence agencies concluded in a declassified intelligence report in February that Prince Mohammed approved of Khashoggi’s gruesome murder.

There is no indication that Rumayyan was involved or had knowledge of the alleged use of the jets in the operation that killed the Washington Post reporter.

The documents suggest, however, that a senior official of the crown prince may have ordered Rumayyan to take PIF-related action on behalf of Prince Mohammed. The PIF declined to comment. A spokesperson for the Saudi embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.

Rumayyan is a former banker who is governor of the PIF and chairman of the Saudi Aramco oil company. He has overseen billions of dollars in investments by the PIF, including in Uber, Facebook, Disney and Citibank.

The Harvard Business School-trained executive is expected to attend his first game at Newcastle on Sunday in his new role as the club’s non-executive chairman.

The Saudi internal documents have been filed in a Canadian court in a civil case brought by Saudi entities against a former senior Saudi intelligence official, Saad Aljabri, a critic of Prince Mohammed who in turn accused the Saudi government of trying to assassinate him in Canada. The Saudi government has denied these allegations.

The court files include copies of notes that were sent to His “Excellency the Supervisor of the Public Investment Fund” by Mohammad al-Sheikh, a senior Saudi adviser to Prince Mohammed.

They relate to the infamous anti-corruption campaign led by the Crown Prince from November 2017, when 400 of Saudi Arabia’s richest people – including princes and ministers – were arrested and detained at the Ritz Hotel -Carlton of Riyadh in what was later condemned by witnesses and critics as a purge involving torture, coercion and the expropriation of billions of assets in Saudi coffers.

Mohammad al-Sheikh, the crown prince’s close advisor, defended the campaign in a 2018 interview on CBS. “The anti-corruption crackdown was very simple. We had a serious corruption problem, ”he said. “We had to do what we did at the Ritz.

The memos are labeled “top secret, not for circulation and very urgent”. The first memo, sent on December 22, 2017, calls on Rumayyan to “transfer” to the ownership of the PIF a number of companies seized as part of the anti-corruption purge.

The second note, dated two days later, reiterates the order with greater urgency and tells Rumayyan to “immediately approve the completion of the necessary procedures”.

Saudi documents filed with the court show that in response, Rumayyan sent a handwritten and signed note on December 26, 2017 to an associate ordering him to “do whatever is necessary as quickly as possible” to comply with the order. Among the 20 companies on a list to transfer to the PIF was Sky Prime Aviation Services, a Riyadh-based jet charter company.

The name of the charter company resurfaced in 2019 in a report by Agnes Callamard, the former UN special rapporteur who investigated Khashoggi’s murder. She concluded that the team of Saudi agents who killed the journalist used two jets operated by Sky Prime Aviation to fly to and from Istanbul before the murder at the Saudi consulate in October 2018.

CNN first reported in February 2021 that court documents showed the two private jets used by the Saudi assassination team were owned by a company that had previously been seized by Prince Mohammed. But other details of court documents relating to Rumayyan’s role in PIF’s acquisition of the charter jet company and other companies have not been reported previously.

The PIF declined to respond to a request for comment from Rumayyan and did not respond to a question about the control of Sky Prime Aviation Services. The Saudi Embassy in Washington and the Premier League also declined to comment.

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Rumayyan has described in the past the abrupt way in which he was chosen by the Crown Prince to lead the PIF as Governor in 2015. “I got a call… The Crown Prince heard from me. I got the call. I thought it was an interview [to lead the PIF], but it was like, ‘Here’s what I want you to do. One, two, three, ”Rumayyan said in a 2020 interview with Carlyle Group CEO David Rubenstein.

After Rumayyan initially said he could start labor in three months, the crown prince told him he had “a month, and you will.” A week later, Prince Mohammed called back and told Rumayyan he was starting “immediately”.

“We are all very proud to be Saudis and to be part of the positive changes that the country is experiencing and making right now,” Rumayyan said in Rubenstein’s interview.

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