Saudi group rejected arbitration offer

Newcastle United manager Steve Bruce speaks with players during a drink break on July 26, 2020.
Newcastle United manager Steve Bruce speaks with players during a drink break on July 26, 2020.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • The proposed takeover of Newcastle by a Saudi Arabia-backed consortium collapsed after the group declined to take up the English Premier League's offer of independent arbitration to decide who would own the club, the league's chief executive Richard Masters has said.

The group, which included Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, investment firm PCP Capital Partners and British property billionaire brothers, David and Simon Reuben, last month announced they were ending their interest in the £300 million (S$538.2 million) deal. It had been delayed by the Premier League's owners' and directors' test.

The group blamed the length of the evaluation for the decision to withdraw and Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah had then contacted the Premier League for more clarity.

In a letter responding to Onwurah, Masters said: "In June, the Premier League board made a clear determination as to which entities it believed would have control over the club following the proposed acquisition.

"The Premier League asked each such person or entity to provide additional information, which would have been used to consider the assessment of any possible disqualifying events."

He revealed the consortium disagreed with the ruling that "one entity would fall within the criteria requiring the provision of this information" following which the league offered it the chance to have the matter determined by an independent arbitration tribunal.

The offer was subsequently rejected before the voluntary withdrawal of the offer.

The bid had been criticised by human rights campaigners and had raised questions about state-sponsored pirate broadcasts of Premier League games in Saudi Arabia.

Masters insisted that there was never a point when the league was asked to make an assessment on the suitability of members of the consortium as the group had ended its bid before the issue was resolved. On whether the process needed to be sped up - there was a hold-up of over four months from when the proposed takeover was first announced in March until its failure - he blamed "incorrect information being published in the media" before claiming it was "a delicate balance to strike".

Moving forward, Masters added the Premier League would review its owners' and directors' test to "ensure it remains robust and fair to all interested stakeholders".

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2020, with the headline 'Saudi group rejected arbitration offer'. Subscribe