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Newcastle United takeover: Saudi deal must be blocked, MP tells government

The government has been urged to block the Saudi Arabia-led takeover of Newcastle United until it investigates TV piracy in the country.

Earlier this week the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ruled that Saudi Arabia helped breach international piracy laws in relation to the broadcaster beoutQ.

It has been accused of illegally broadcasting a range of professional sport, including the Premier League.

Angus MacNeil, chair of the International Trade Select Committee, has now written to trade secretary Liz Truss to voice his concerns.

In a letter seen by BBC Sport, MacNeil says: “As you would have seen, the WTO has made a landmark ruling on the protection of sports rights, which is one of the UK’s most valuable and treasured exports.

“In its ruling, the WTO held that the government of Saudi Arabia has, from the beginning, been actively… supporting the ‘beoutQ’ piracy operation that has stolen the commercial rights of UK sports bodies for three years.”

The rights to show Premier League games in the Middle East belong to Qatar-based beIN Sports, who are currently in the middle of a three-year deal with the Premier League worth £400m.

Saudi Arabia has always denied aiding the beoutQ operation and has insisted there is no link between its government and the alleged piracy.

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“This is an insult to the UK government, affront to the Premier League, and abuse of UK sport – and should not be tolerated,” wrote MacNeill.

“This is relevant today, right now, because the very entity that has been stealing premium UK sports and entertainment content is attempting to buy a major UK sporting institution – Newcastle United Football Club.

MacNeil said that in light of the WTO ruling “the UK government must now play its part in protecting our creative industry exports by investigating the launch, promotion and operation of the beoutQ service.”

“Quite simply, if Saudi Arabia is unwilling to play by the rules of international law, then it should have no role in the future of UK sport.”

The proposed £300m Newcastle takeover deal is 80% financed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, whose chairman is Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund – which the government of Saudi Arabia owns and controls – should not be allowed to acquire Newcastle United Football Club until this investigation is completed.”

It is currently awaiting approval via the Premier League’s owners and directors test, which looks into the background of prospective club owners.

Part of that involves analysing whether there has been any alleged involvement in criminality.

Premier League lawyers have been assessing the deal for two months.

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In April the government indicated it would not intervene, saying it was a matter for the Premier League.

However, this week Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, said: “I think it’s right that that legal due process […] is followed and we have this debate about takeovers in this country. I think we should follow the rule of law.”

The Premier League, Fifa, Uefa, La Liga and the Bundesliga have all tried to bring about proceedings in Saudi courts, but have been blocked by the country’s government.

www.bbc.com

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