U.K. Denies Intervening in Saudi-Led Bid for Newcastle United Soccer Club

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The U.K. said it was not involved in the proposed takeover of Newcastle United Football Club by a Saudi Arabia-led investor group, and denied a report Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked a senior aide to intervene.

“This was a commercial matter for the parties concerned and the government was not involved at any point in the takeover talks of the sale,” Johnson’s spokesman, Max Blain, told reporters on Thursday.

Blain was responding after the Daily Mail newspaper reported that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman asked Johnson in June last year to order the Premier League to “reconsider” its decision to block the deal.

Johnson asked his senior aide, Edward Lister, to “check on the progress of the talks as a potential major foreign investment in the U.K.,” Blain said, but added: “He didn’t ask him to intervene.”

The report comes amid growing controversy in the U.K. about close ties between business and government exposed by the collapse of Greensill Capital this year.

The investor group led by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund abandoned its proposed takeover of Newcastle, one of the best-supported soccer teams in England, in July last year, citing the prolonged process and challenges posed by the pandemic.

But the takeover attracted criticism from Amnesty International, which wanted the deal blocked because of its concerns about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, while Qatar-based BeIn Media Group also charged that Saudi Arabia was involved in piracy of its premium sports rights, including to English soccer.

The Saudi government’s Center for International Communication did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.

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