The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, warned Boris Johnson in a text message that relations between the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia would be damaged if the British government did not intervene to “correct” the “wrong” decision of the Premier League not to allow a 300 million pound takeover. from Newcastle United last year.
Johnson asked Edward Lister, his special envoy for the Gulf, to take up the issue and Lord Lister reportedly told the prime minister: “I’m on the case. I will research.”
The message came from an attempt by a consortium led by the sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, to buy Newcastle from its current owner, Mike Ashley.
An agreement was reached in April last year, which was then examined by the Premier League under the test of its owners and directors, because the league had doubts about the independence of the team from the Saudi government’s bid. In July, the consortium, which described itself as a “purely commercial and autonomous investor”, withdrew from the deal, blaming an “unpredictably lengthy process.”
The Daily Mail, who reported for the first time On Prince Mohammed’s lobbying attempt, he said the message to Johnson was sent on June 27 and said: “We hope the English Premier League will reconsider and correct its wrong conclusion.”
Lister told the Mail: “The Saudis were getting upset. We weren’t pushing for them to buy it or not. We wanted [the Premier League] to be direct and say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, don’t go [the Saudis] strung up.”
Johnson and his ministers have shown sympathy for the offer, but do not have the direct power to override the Premier League.
In August, Johnson, aware of how popular the offer had been with some football fans in the North East of England, wrote to members of the Newcastle United Supporters Trust: “I appreciate that many Newcastle fans were expecting this takeover offer to be carried out and they could understand his sense of disappointment. I have seen the email recently sent to Newcastle fans by the Independent Football Ombudsman and agree with their conclusion that the Premier League should make a statement on this case. “
Saudi Arabia has long been jealous of its archrival Qatar’s participation in the Paris Saint-Germain football club, and of the participation of a consortium of the United Arab Emirates in Manchester City.
In February this year, the Biden administration released a declassified intelligence report that concluded that Prince Mohammed had approved the 2018 assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Human rights groups say the Saudi government has acted with impunity since 2018, including through arbitrary arrests of critics of the prince, as well as potential political rivals.
“The offer to buy Newcastle was a flagrant example of Saudi sports laundering, so it is worrying that the prime minister will somehow acquiesce in pressure from the crown prince on the deal,” said British Director of Amnesty International Kate Allen.
Freedom of information requests show that the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport bombarded the Premier League in June 2020 with updates on how the bid decision was going. The DCMS said the Saudi Foreign Ministry office was involved in responding to the decision, showing the political sensitivity of the issue to the UK government.
The DCMS argues that the emails do not represent pressure, they simply ask to keep culture secretary Oliver Dowden aware of decisions.
Tensions at the top of the government over the role of Prince Mohammed are revealed in the diaries of former Foreign Minister Sir Alan Duncan, published this week.
On October 10, 2018, shortly after Khashoggi’s assassination, Duncan wrote: “The Saudi problem is huge. He was killed and cut up. It’s a game changer. I think we should take the initiative internationally by saying that we love the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but we have growing doubts about MBS. It targets the man and not the country. We should … but we can’t afford … so we won’t. “
In another part of his diaries, he accuses Prince Mohammed of “bombing Yemen to pieces.” Duncan wrote that, acting on a tip, he had offered to provide Johnson with a list of the missing Saudi princes.
Amnesty said: “At the time when the crown prince was exerting this pressure on the number 10, the world was still reeling from the consequences of the Khashoggi murder, Saudi human rights activists like Loujain al-Hathloul languished in jail and the Saudi warplanes were indiscriminately bombarding Yemen.
“This whole tangled affair only underscores how there needs to be a proper review of the Premier League owners and managers test to provide proper human rights scrutiny of who is trying to buy the glamor and prestige of English football.”
A UK government spokesman said the sale had been a “commercial matter” and that the government was not involved in the acquisition talks at any time.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism