UK minister ‘aided’ controversial Saudi takeover of Newcastle United FC

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A minister from Britain’s Conservative Party aided Saudi Arabia’s controversial takeover of Newcastle United Football Club, according to documents released by the Department for International Trade in response to a freedom of information request by OpenDemocracy.

Details revealed by the media platform appear to contradict the statement of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson in parliament last year that the government had no involvement with the sale. Johnson stated in a parliamentary answer to Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah in April 2021 that, “The government was not involved at any point in the takeover talks on the sale of Newcastle [United FC].”

Controversial Saudi purchase of Newcastle United expected to go through - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Controversial Saudi purchase of Newcastle United expected to go through – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

The purchase of the English Premier League football club by the Saudi Public Investment Fund was criticised by human rights groups as well as the fiancée of journalist Jamal Khashoggi who was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

The documents show that Lord Gerry Grimstone, who was the unpaid Minister for Investment at the time, promised the English Premier League that he would secure a response from “the highest levels of the Saudi government” to the takeover during a critical phase of the deal.

Grimstone reportedly asked the then English Premier League chairman, Gary Hoffman, in August 2020 to share the league’s legal advice on “a way forward” for the stalled takeover, the documents reveal. A month earlier, the deal had collapsed amid scrutiny from the league, which came under pressure to stop the sale due to concerns over alleged broadcast piracy in Saudi Arabia.

The documents reveal that Grimstone liaised between the English Premier League and the British government about a potential “solution” to the takeover.

OPINION: Accused of ‘sports-washing’, are the Saudis now ‘games-washing’?

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