Saudi Arabia’s proposed takeover of Newcastle United FC was thrown into doubt on Tuesday after media reported the World Trade Organization found it had breached international law by backing pirating of Premier League matches.
The 130-page WTO report will be published in mid-June, but a copy has already been sent to the Premier League, which gave evidence against Saudi Arabia as part of the process. The WTO ruled that Saudi Arabia was behind the BeoutQ pirating streaming platform, according to the media reports.
The rights to Premier League matches in the Middle East and North Africa region are owned by beIN Sports, which is owned by Saudi’s regional rival Qatar.
English football clubs claim Saudi piracy of matches of the Premier League – which Newcastle United is part of – is actively damaging their commercial interest in the Middle East.
Alongside the Premier League, FIFA, UEFA, La Liga and others have all tried to take legal action against beoutQ in Saudi Arabia, but to no avail. A case lodged against Saudi at the WTO led to the report.
Saudi officials deny the allegations, but a US government investigation previously found a link between the Saudi government and BeoutQ, and the US has put Saudi on its watch list for “notorious markets for counterfeiting and piracy.”
If a link can be proven between the Saudi government and BeoutQ, they could potentially fail the “fit and proper owner test” banning owners who commit crimes abroad that would also be crimes in the UK, as well as those who give false, misleading, or inaccurate information to the Premier League.
Were the deal to go forward, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) – chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – would hold an 80% stake in the club in a deal worth £300 million ($370 million).
In addition to supporting pirating, Saudi Arabia is accused of human rights abuses and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Both the UN and Western intelligence agencies believe bin Salman ordered the murder of Khashoggi, who was killed and dismembered in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, a charge bin Salman denies.