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CAMPAIGN Against Arms Trade (CAAT) has called on the Premier League to strengthen club-ownership rules to prevent the Saudi regime from taking over Newcastle United.
Current owner Mike Ashley has openly wanted to rid himself of the club and looks to have finally got his wish, with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, close to buying the Premier League club for a staggering £300 million.
Ashley, who has made his billions exploiting workers at his Sports Direct sports-shop chain, and Newcastle are yet to confirm reports that the deal is close.
Human-rights campaigners continue to protest against the purchase, highlighting that since the start of the bombing of Yemen in March 2015, Britain has willingly forked over £5.3 billion worth of arms to the blood-stained Saudi regime.
Andrew Smith of CAAT said: “The Crown Prince holds a senior position in one of the world’s most authoritarian regimes. He has overseen the imprisonment, torture and execution of political opponents, and the persecution of migrants and LGBT people.
“He is also responsible for the devastating bombing campaign in Yemen. Any test that finds he is a ‘fit and proper person’ and allows him to own a significant chunk of a major football club is clearly not good enough.
“The message that this deal would send is a terrible one. It would turn a community football team into a propaganda vehicle for one of the most brutal dictatorships in the world. If the rules allow this they must be reformed to ensure that it cannot happen again.
“If the Premier League wants to be seen to stand for human rights, then it must tighten its rules and take a stand against this disgraceful deal.”
CAAT’s statement also pointed to the brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The proposed takeover has been slammed by Khashoggi’s fiancee Hatice Cengiz.
“The standing of both the Premiership and English football in general would be tarnished by your connection with those who commit the most appalling crimes and then seek to whitewash them, and who seek to use English football as a way of improving their image and hiding their transgressions,” lawyers for Ms Cengiz said in a letter on her behalf.
It added that there should be no place in English football for anyone “involved in such abhorrent acts.”
At present, a “fit and proper persons” test is applied to anyone who takes over as a director or seeks to buy 30 per cent of a club’s shares. However, the test does not have any meaningful way to block the appointment of representatives from regimes that abuse human rights.
If the sale is completed, it is understood that the Saudi fund will own 80 per cent of Newcastle, with Amanda Staveley and the Rueben Brothers taking 10 per cent each.
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