English soccer’s Premier League has been accused of “abusing its position” and being “influenced” by international pay-television operator BeIN Sports and other clubs by blocking the Saudi-led takeover of Newcastle United.
The claim was made by a barrister representing the club in a Competition Appeal Tribunal that will decide if the league breached anti-competition laws resulting in losses for Newcastle.
At the hearing, Daniel Jowell QC claimed that BeIn and "a number of major Premier League clubs joined in lobbying against the takeover deal".
According to him, this led to an "unfair application of rules" and an "abuse of its position which distorted competition".
Newcastle are involved in two separate legal disputes with the Premier League, with an arbitration hearing also scheduled for early 2022.
Mike Ashley, Newcastle’s owner since 2007, initiated legal action, after the proposed £300 million ($411.4 million) takeover of the club by a consortium including the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund, the Reuben Brothers and Amanda Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners collapsed in the summer of 2020.
Ashley has always alleged that the Premier League was responsible for the deal falling through last July, but the league has maintained that the consortium withdrew before it was asked to make an assessment of the suitability of the group’s members.
Jowell said the collapse of the deal had already cost the northeast club losses "in excess of £10 million" and added the league had not "carried through with its threat to stop the club participating in the competition".
Jowell added: "If the Premier League came to its senses and reversed its decision, we hope [the buyers] might be prepared to go forward on similar terms.
"But there is no basis that PIF would be prepared to wait until 2022 and the outcome of arbitration and then go ahead on the same terms."
In relation to the CAT hearing, Adam Lewis QC, who represented the Premier League, criticised the claimant – St James Holdings, which is owned by Ashley – of an "abuse of process" by claiming it was separate and different from Newcastle United and Ashley, and "going over the same information [as the arbitration] and in the wrong forum".
However, he did add that "if the arbitration decides that Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would not be a director then the transaction can and will go ahead with no question of the owners' and directors' test applying to KSA."
The Premier League had spent 17 weeks reviewing the planned buyout as part of its owners and directors test, a process that typically takes up to four weeks.
Under the consortium’s plan, Staveley was to have overseen the business on behalf of the other investors, but the Premier League reportedly had concerns over the involvement of the Saudi state and a lack of clarity over who would be running the club.
Concerns also were expressed over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and the country's harbouring of beoutQ, a pirate broadcaster that had been responsible for the stealing of content from companies including BeIN Media Group, the Premier League rights holder in the Middle East and North Africa.
The takeover was further complicated by a World Trade Organisation report released in June last year which concluded that representatives of the Saudi state had facilitated beoutQ.
It was revealed at the tribunal that the arbitration hearing will take place on 3 January.
The hearing, which Newcastle have maintained should be heard in public, was initially meant to take place in the first few months of 2021, but was pushed back on several occasions.