Premier League 'improperly influenced' blocking of Newcastle takeover

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Newcastle United's St James' Park stadium (AFP/Owen Humphreys)
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The Premier League was "improperly influenced" by other English top-flight clubs and media group beIN in coming to a decision that effectively blocked the Saudi takeover of Newcastle United, a tribunal was told Wednesday.

The "active lobbying" by the clubs and beIN, which owns the broadcast rights for the league in the Middle East and north Africa, "distorted the Premier League's fair and objective application of the rules" in relation to the proposed deal, it was argued.

The league is a defendant in a Competition Appeals Tribunal (CAT) claim brought by St James Holdings Ltd (SJHL), a company wholly owned by Newcastle owner Mike Ashley -- an unpopular figure with many fans of the northeast club, who are angered by what they see as his failure to invest in the team.

A consortium featuring Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, Amanda Staveley's PCP Capital Partners and the Reuben Brothers withdrew its £350 million ($460 million) offer for Newcastle in 2020 following a long wait for the Premier League to approve the deal.

The basis of the claim is that the Premier League, in deciding the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would be a director exercising control over the club and therefore subject to its owners' and directors' test, did not apply its rules in a fair, objective and non-discriminatory manner, causing SJHL to suffer a financial loss that currently "exceeds £10 million".

The Premier League, however, argues the tribunal does not have jurisdiction to hear the claim.

Adam Lewis, acting for the league, said an arbitration hearing connected to the dispute over the Newcastle takeover bid is set to start on January 3 next year and that, as a result, the competition claim from SJHL was an "abuse of process" or premature at the least.

Newcastle are currently just above the relegation zone on goal difference and are winless after six league games this season.

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