A consortium backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund has withdrawn its bid to buy English Premier League club Newcastle United after the takeover process was stalled by concerns about piracy by the kingdom, and complaints that Riyadh is seeking to “sportswash” its human rights abuses through the purchase.
The investor group, which included Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) as well as the British-based PCP Capital Partners and Reuben Brothers, was reported to have made a 300 million-pound ($391 million) bid to buy the leading soccer club from British businessman Mike Ashley.
The takeover would have seen the PIF gain an 80 percent stake in the club. The British sides were planning to each buy the remaining 10 percent stakes to end the ownership.
“With a deep appreciation for the Newcastle community and the significance of its football club, we have come to the decision to withdraw our interest in acquiring Newcastle United Football Club,” the consortium said in a statement released on Thursday.
“We do so with regret, as we were excited and fully committed to invest in the great city of Newcastle and believe we could have returned the club to the position of its history, tradition and fans’ merit.”
“Unfortunately, the prolonged process under the current circumstances coupled with global uncertainty has rendered the potential investment no longer commercially viable,” the group added.
According to Bloomberg News, American businessman Henry Mauriss has also been considering placing a bid for Newcastle United and is prepared to offer about 350 million pounds.
The Premier League’s board had been carrying out an examination of the proposed takeover over the past four months as part of its “owners and directors test,”
Amnesty International had asked the league to consider blocking the bid because Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund is overseen by MBS, and said he has been involved in a “sweeping crackdown on human rights.”
The proposed deal was also complicated by the World Trade Organization recently after it ruled that Saudi Arabia had breached global rules on intellectual property rights by failing to prosecute pirate broadcaster BeoutQ, which broadcasts Premier League games, and blocked moves to shut it down in an economic and diplomatic dispute with Qatar.
The Qatar-owned beIN Sports network, which is banned from operating in Saudi Arabia, holds the Middle East rights that are being pirated by BeoutQ.
Last month, British lawmaker Angus MacNeil wrote to Secretary of State for International Trade, Liz Truss, calling for Saudi takeover of Newcastle United to be blocked.