Mike Ashley hires leading lawyers for battle over failed Newcastle United takeover

Monday 14th September 2020 14:15 BST

Ashley, the billionaire owner of Sports Direct, has appointed Blackstone Chambers law firm in a bid to prove the Premier League's owners and directors test was not properly applied to the proposed buyers.

Such buyers included Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF), which would have received an 80% stake of the club, and Amanda Staveley's PCP Capital Partners and the Reuben brothers, of which both would have split the remaining 20%.

It also represents an escalation in the war of words between Newcastle United and the Premier League over the takeover, which failed when the consortium publicly withdrew their offer in July.

Last week, Newcastle United released a statement accusing the Premier League's chief executive Richard Masters of not acting "appropriately" during the process of the owners and directors test.

In response, the Premier League said that claims about the takeover being blocked were "incorrect" and that they were still waiting for "all appropriate information" from the proposed buyers.

The League also said it was incorrect to assert that any decision was taken by an individual, stating that the decisions were unanimously agreed by board members.

It is understood that Ashley wants to revive interest from Saudi Arabia after the £300m deal fell through.

He believes this legal action could be the doorway to such interest.

It comes after the deal was initially held up amid concerns about piracy and human rights in Saudi Arabia.

Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of murdered journalist and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi, had called on the Premier League to block the takeover.

The assassination and dismemberment of Mr Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in late 2018 has been linked to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who oversees PIF.

The crown prince has repeatedly insisted he had nothing to do with the killing of Mr Khashoggi, which was carried out by officials who worked directly for him.

In a statement at the end of the July, the prospective buyers said they were pulling out of the deal with "regret" due to uncertainty caused by coronavirus.

It said: "Ultimately, during the unforeseeably prolonged process, the commercial agreement between the Investment Group and the club's owners expired and our investment thesis could not be sustained, particularly with no clarity as to the circumstances under which the next season will start and the new norms that will arise for matches, training and other activities.

"As often occurs with proposed investments in uncertain periods, time itself became an enemy of the transaction, particularly during this difficult phase marked by the many real challenges facing us all from COVID-19."

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