NUFC: Reaction to claims of lobbying over the Saudi takeover bid

Claims that Saudi crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman lobbied Prime Minister Boris Johnson over the Newcastle takeover "illustrate that this was more than just a commercial transaction within the football world", Amnesty International has said.Reports in the Daily Mail say the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia had privately urged Johnson to reconsider the "wrong conclusion" reached by the Premier League over the £300million takeover deal, and that Johnson then asked one of his top aides to investigate the matter.

Amnesty International says it sees the takeover as an attempt by the Saudi state to "sportwash" its reputation after a long history of alleged human rights abuses.

The human rights group's UK director Kate Allen told PA, "The bid to buy Newcastle was a blatant example of Saudi sportswashing, so it's worrying that the Prime Minister would accede in any way to pressure from the crown prince over the deal.

Allen added, "At the time that the crown prince was putting this pressure on No. 10, the world was still reeling from the fall-out over Jamal Khashoggi's murder, Saudi human rights activists like Loujain al-Hathloul were languishing in jail, and Saudi warplanes were indiscriminately bombing Yemen.

"This whole tangled affair only underlines how there needs to be a proper overhaul of the Premier League's owners' and directors' test to provide proper human rights scrutiny of who is trying to buy into the glamour and prestige of English football."

A Government spokesman said the sale had been a "commercial matter" and that the Government was not involved at any point in the takeover talks.

Labour MP for Newcastle Central, Chi Onwurah says she will be writing to the Prime Minister for clarity on the situation.

At the middle of all of this are the fans that today have found themselves at the heart of a geopolitical story. Dave McPartlan from the Newcastle United supporter network The Magpie Group says "it's absolutely crazy".

The report comes after Johnson this week ordered a review into the collapse of the financial firm Greensill Capital amid concern over former Prime Minister David Cameron's lobbying on its behalf.

"We expect the English Premier League to reconsider and correct its wrong conclusion," the prince is said to have warned the Prime Minister.

In a message to his private office, Johnson said, "One for Sir Edward" - a reference to Lord Udny-Lister, who had not been ennobled at the time.

Lord Udny-Lister reportedly told the Prime Minister, "I'm on the case. I will investigate."

Lord Udny-Lister told the Mail, "The Saudis were getting upset. We were not lobbying for them to buy it or not to buy it. We wanted [the Premier League] to be straightforward and say 'yes' or 'no', don't leave [the Saudis] dangling."

The Prime Minister's spokesman says, "The Prime Minister didn't intervene. The PM asked Lord Lister to check on the progress of the talks as a potential major foreign investment in the UK. He didn't ask him to intervene."

The takeover is currently subject to an arbitration process after the consortium, led by the Saudi public investment fund which is chaired by the crown prince, withdrew its offer in July last year.

The consortium said its decision to withdraw was in part due to the "unforeseeably prolonged process".

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters wrote to Newcastle MP Chi Onwurah last August to say that his organisation had made a "clear determination" over which entities would have control of the club and from whom it would need information, but that the consortium disagreed over the inclusion of one of those entities.

He added that an independent arbitral tribunal was offered to the consortium in recognition of this dispute, but that the consortium refused.