RIYADH (Dispatches) – A consortium backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund has withdrawn its bid to buy English Premier League club Newcastle United after the takeover process was stalled by concerns about piracy by the kingdom, and complaints that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 group, which included Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund PIF, PCP Capital Partners and Reuben Brothers, was reported to have made a 300 million pounds ($391m) bid to buy United from British businessman Mike Ashley.
"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 group said in a statement.
"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.
The Premier League’s board had been carrying out an examination of the proposed takeover as part of its "owners and directors test”, which evaluates the suitability of ownership groups.
However, the league’s CEO Richard Masters suggested last month that the proposed takeover had become complicated.
The consortium’s bid withdrawal comes after the process was stalled by concerns about piracy by the kingdom and human rights complaints.
Amnesty International asked the league to consider blocking the bid because the fund was overseen by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and said he has been involved in a "sweeping crackdown on human rights”.
A separate issue raised by critics of the proposed deal was Saudi Arabia’s response to cases of unauthorized broadcasting of Premier League games in the country.
Last month, a World Trade Organization panel told Saudi Arabia it had breached global rules on intellectual property rights by failing to prosecute a pirate broadcaster of sports and movies in a dispute with Persian Gulf neighbor Qatar regarding the BeoutQ channel, which broadcast Premier League games.