Saudi-led consortium completes Newcastle United takeover

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A Saudi-led consortium completed its takeover of Premier League club Newcastle United on Thursday despite warnings from Amnesty International that the deal represented "sportswashing" of the Gulf kingdom's human rights record.

The English top flight said it had settled legal disputes that had initially stalled the £300 million ($408 million) takeover and received "legally binding assurances" that the Saudi Arabian government would not control the club.

"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 Premier League said in a statement.

"Following the completion of the Premier League's owners' and directors' Test, the club has been sold to the consortium with immediate effect."

Public Investment Fund (PIF) governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan said: "We are extremely proud to become the new owners of Newcastle United, one of the most famous clubs in English football."

Hundreds of success-starved fans swarmed to Newcastle's St James' Park ground, celebrating by letting off flares as the reign of the widely disliked Mike Ashley came to an end.

Former Newcastle and England striker Alan Shearer tweeted "Yesssssssss. We can dare to hope again" while another ex-forward, Michael Owen, said it could be a "game-changer" for the club.

The Newcastle United Supporters Trust tweeted a letter to the new owners saying it looked forward to working with them" to rejuvenate one of the greatest football clubs in England".

Newcastle director Amanda Staveley refused to to give any guarantees on the future of manager Steve Bruce, with the club currently winless after their first seven Premier League games.

Bruce, who is unpopular with many fans, told the Daily Telegraph he wanted to continue in his role but admitted new owners "may well want a new manager".

Staveley set her sights on winning the Premier League trophy within five to 10 years but sought to temper short-term expectations.

"We want to be great custodians of this club," the British financier told Sky Sports. "What we don't want to be in danger of is over-promising."

Newcastle will hope to follow the template established by Manchester City, who have become serial trophy winners since a 2008 takeover by Sheikh Mansour, a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family.

- Tensions -

The consortium, featuring the Saudi Public Investment Fund, Staveley's PCP Capital Partners and billionaire brothers David and Simon Reuben, struck a deal to buy the club from Ashley in April 2020.

However, the controversial takeover bid hit the rocks after an outcry from Qatar-based beIN Sports, a major television rights holder of the Premier League.

The broadcaster, which extended its rights to the English top flight for the Middle East and North African region earlier this year, was banned by Saudi Arabia in 2017 at the start of a diplomatic and transport blockade of Qatar, which ended in January.

Tensions between the states have eased significantly this year and Saudi's ban on beIN is set to be lifted, with a source briefed on the matter saying there was a "commitment for it to happen".

Riyadh is also seeking to settle Qatar's $1 billion arbitration claim over pirate broadcasts to Saudi audiences by the BeoutQ network.

The PIF, chaired by Prince Mohammed bin Salman, widely known as MBS, is reportedly taking an 80 percent stake under the deal.

The takeover could transform the Magpies' fortunes -- despite regular attendances of 50,000, Newcastle have not won a major trophy since 1969.

Ashley has been in charge for 14 years, during which time the club have twice been relegated from the Premier League before bouncing back.

Despite the celebrations in Newcastle, Amnesty has warned the deal is part of Saudi Arabia's efforts to "sportswash" its human rights record.

"Ever since this deal was first talked about, Amnesty have said it represents a very clear attempt by the Saudi authorities to sportswash their appalling human rights record using the glamour of the Premier League," Amnesty's head of campaigns in the UK, Felix Jakens, told AFP.

Saudi Arabia faced international condemnation following the brutal murder of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom's Istanbul consulate three years ago.

In February, US intelligence released a report that accused MBS of approving the murder, an assessment strongly rejected by the Saudis.

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