A Saudi Arabian-backed £305m takeover of Newcastle United has been completed.
The Premier League has approved the takeover after receiving “legally binding assurances” that the Saudi state would not control the club.
Instead the Public Investment Fund (PIF), which will provide 80% of funds for the deal, is seen as separate to the state.
This is despite the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, being listed as chair of PIF.
The sale went through after the deal passed the Premier League owners’ and directors’ test.
The takeover brings to an end Mike Ashley’s 14-year spell as Newcastle United owner.
Fans gathered outside Newcastle’s St James’ Park stadium on Thursday to celebrate the takeover being approved.
PIF have assets of £250bn, making Newcastle one of the richest clubs in the world.
Financier Amanda Staveley, who fronted the consortium, said the new owners are making a “long-term investment” to ensure Newcastle are “regularly competing for major trophies”.
Newcastle’s last major domestic trophy was the 1955 FA Cup.
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A Premier League statement said: “The Premier League, Newcastle United Football Club and St James Holdings Limited have today settled the dispute over the takeover of the club by the consortium of PIF, PCP Capital Partners and RB Sports & Media.
“The legal disputes concerned which entities would own and/or have the ability to control the club following the takeover. All parties have agreed the settlement is necessary to end the long uncertainty for fans over the club’s ownership.
“The Premier League has now received legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle United Football Club.
“All parties are pleased to have concluded this process which gives certainty and clarity to Newcastle United Football Club and their fans.”
A deal was initially agreed in April 2020, but the buyers walked away four months later when the Premier League offered arbitration to settle a disagreement on who would control the club.
It is believed that a resolution came after Saudi Arabia settled an alleged piracy dispute with Qatar-based broadcaster beIN Sports, which own rights to show Premier League matches in the Middle East.
But sources have told BBC Sport that an agreement between the Premier League and the consortium was reached prior to news emerging on Wednesday that the piracy dispute had been resolved.
The Saudi Arabian state has been accused of human rights abuses, but with the majority owner PIF deemed a separate entity, that, and any piracy issues, were no longer an impediment to the takeover, in the Premier League’s view.
Western intelligence agencies believe the crown prince ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 – which he denies.
PCP Capital chief executive Amanda Staveley will take a seat on Newcastle’s board, while Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the governor of PIF, will act as the club’s non-executive chairman.
Staveley told BBC sports editor Dan Roan that PCP Capital took concerns over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record “very seriously” but reiterated that their partner “is not that Saudi state, it’s PIF”.
When asked if this was a case of ‘sportswashing’ by Saudi Arabia, she said: “No, not at all, this is very much about the PIF’s investment into a fantastic football team and we look forward to growing the club.”
Opposition from human rights organisations
Saudi Arabia has been accused of human rights abuses and women’s rights campaigners have been imprisoned, despite some reform under Mohammed bin Salman, such as an end to the ban on women driving.
Homosexuality is outlawed in the country and the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association says the death penalty is the legally prescribed punishment for same-sex sexual acts in Saudi Arabia.
Amnesty International UK said the takeover is “an extremely bitter blow for human rights defenders”.
“We can understand that this will be seen as a great day by many Newcastle United fans,” said chief executive Sacha Deshmukh.
“But it’s also a very worrying day for anyone who cares about the ownership of English football clubs and whether these great clubs are being used to sportswash human rights abuse.”
Deshmukh reiterated Amnesty International’s call for the Premier League to “change their owners’ and directors’ test to address human rights issues”.
Khashoggi’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, previously urged the Premier League not to allow the move to go through, citing the involvement of the crown prince.
End of the Ashley era
Sports Direct chief executive Ashley bought Newcastle for £134m in May 2007.
He first put the club up for sale in September 2008 amid a series of protests from fans following the resignation of popular manager Kevin Keegan.
Newcastle were relegated from the Premier League that season and again in 2015-16, although returned to the top flight at the first opportunity both times by winning the Championship.
The Magpies’ highest Premier League finish during Ashley’s ownership was fifth in 2011-12 under Alan Pardew.
Ashley put Newcastle up for sale again in October 2017.
The club are 19th and winless after seven games this season, with boss Steve Bruce under pressure – a Newcastle United Supporters’ Trust (NUST) survey said this week 94% of fans want Bruce to leave.
The same survey said 93.8% of its members are in favour of the takeover and NUST said in a statement that the sale brought “the first real hope” of success to the club “for many years”.
NUST added it looked forward to working with the owners to “rejuvenate one of the greatest football clubs in England”.
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