Newcastle players, Saudi Arabian Jets and conundrums for the English Premier League

Before the Newcastle United players and coaches depart for a warm-weather training camp in Saudi Arabia this week, the new owners of the Premier League team have faced the daunting task. is to convince the world that the team will not be the property of the State of Saudi Arabia.

It’s not an easy case to make: 80% of Newcastle, after all, now belongs to for the Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. The president of the PIF is Mohammed bin Salman, crown prince and de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia.

Even the Premier League has in the past expressed concern about the connections. It delay the sale of Newcastle In the more than a year until, Premier League officials say, they finally allowed the deal to go through in October after receiving unspecified “legally binding assurances” that the Arab state Saudi Arabia will not control the football team.

Those questions only returned, however, this week, as Newcastle players and coaching staff moved down the steps on their private charter flight in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Monday. Photos of the team’s appearance shows the plane being operated by a company called Alpha Star, an airline business whose parent company was acquired by Crown Prince Mohammed after a purge of high-profile business and royal figures shortly after He emerged as the heir to the throne of Saudi Arabia.

The identity of the company and its seizure were recorded as part of the a lawsuit in Canada brought by the Saudi state against a former high-ranking intelligence official. Alpha Star and its sister company, Sky Prime, another airline provider with aircraft bring a group of assassins who killed and dismembered dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in 2018, was arrested and transferred into a $400 billion sovereign wealth fund – at the behest of Crown Prince Mohammed, according to legal filings – in 2017.

Documents revealing links between airline companies and the country’s rulers are part of a long-running corruption lawsuit brought by a group of Saudi state-owned companies against a former love official. newspaper Saad Aljabri, a close confidant of Mohammed bin Nayef, a former interior minister. The minister was deposed as crown prince by Crown Prince Mohammed in 2017.

But the use of the plane – owned by an established company and once contracted by the Saudi state transport extremists and terrorist suspects – also makes it more difficult for new UK-based Newcastle owners and executives to claim long-term relationships from their Saudi counterparts in the PIF

State ownership of clubs has become one of the more contentious topics in European football in recent years as Paris St.-Germain and Manchester City both use seemingly rich wealth. as bottomless by Gulf owners to reshape the sport’s competitive economy and balance. Newcastle fans have generally welcomed the arrival of the Saudi rich – and the potential for a resurgence on the pitch – at their club, even as critics questioned the influence. abroad and human rights concerns.

Before his team left England, Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe was pressed about the purpose of the team’s week-long visit to Saudi Arabia. Howe insists the engine is purely sporty, an attempt to tweak the team’s preparations amid warm weather ahead of the second half of the season. But the club faced criticism from human rights groups such as Amnesty International, which said the trip risked becoming “a glorified PR act for the government of Mohammed”. bin Salman”.

On Friday, Howe and his players reported to have met with a representative of PIF, who board including half a dozen senior Saudi government officials.

“I think it just shows, number one, why buying and selling matters in the first place and is not separate from the Saudi state,” said Adam Coogle, deputy director of the Middle East and North division. Phi at Human Rights Watch, talking about the trip. “No. 2, it shows they don’t care. They’ll just flaunt it. They don’t even try to pretend that this isn’t what it is.”

A PIF spokesperson declined a request for comment. The Premier League and Newcastle United rejected similar requests on Friday.

However, the relationship between Newcastle and Saudi Arabia continues to rock the Premier League. Late last year, the federation revised its sponsorship rules after rivals raised concerns about the prospect of Saudi money suddenly flowing into the team’s accounts through deals with companies. related to their ownership in the Bay Area.

Under a compromise agreement, the federation said it would evaluate all “related party” grants to ensure the deals made were in line with fair market value.

Since taking over, Premier League chief executive Richard Masters has deflected questions about his organization’s ability to ensure that Newcastle are not opposed to assurances of its separation. out of the state. When he was asked in November how the federation could have known whether the local ownership group was obeying Crown Prince Mohammed’s orders, Masters admitted that the federation could not know.

“In that case, I don’t think we’ll know,” he said. “I don’t think it will happen. There are legally binding guarantees that the state will not be held liable for the club. If we find evidence to the contrary, we may remove the partnership as the owner of the club. That was understood. ” Newcastle players, Saudi Arabian Jets and conundrums for the English Premier League

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