UK govt. withholds details of talks on Newcastle takeover ‘to protect ties with Saudi Arabia’

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Newcastle United fans celebrate a Saudi-led takeover of the soccer club by waving Saudi Arabia’s flag, at St James’s Park in London, the UK, on October 7, 2021.

The UK government is refusing to reveal the details of meetings held with Premier League authorities to discuss the Saudi takeover of Newcastle United soccer club because it could “damage” bilateral relations with Saudi Arabia.

The British Foreign Office responded to a BBC request for details of the meetings citing freedom of information with a redacted copy of the agenda for two sessions, held in May and June 2020, declining to provide further details such as the list of the attendees or the full minutes of the sessions.

In its letter to the BBC in March this year, the Foreign Office said, “The disclosure of information detailing our relationship with the Saudi government could potentially damage the bilateral relationship between the UK and Saudi Arabia.”

“This would reduce the UK government’s ability to protect and promote UK interests through its relations with Saudi Arabia which would not be in the public interest,” it added.

The Foreign Office confirmed that a meeting on May 14 had been attended by representatives from the institution, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the Department for International Trade and the Premier League, while a meeting on June 10 had only included officials from the Foreign Office and the Premier League.

The redacted minutes of the second meeting showed that the “exact timeline for a PL [Premier League] decision” was uncertain but was “becoming closer.”

The development comes following the Premier League’s approval of the takeover by Saudi Arabia of Newcastle United on Thursday, after receiving “legally binding” assurances that the club would not be controlled by Riyadh.

The investor group, however, includes Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as well as the British-based PCP Capital Partners and Reuben Brothers, who were reported to have made a 300-million-pound (391-million-dollar) bid to buy the leading soccer club from British businessman Mike Ashley.

The takeover would see the PIF gain an 80-percent stake in the club, with the two British sides each buying the remaining 10 percent stakes to end the ownership.

Amnesty International UK described the takeover as “an extremely bitter blow for human rights defenders.”

Saudi Arabia is the largest importer of military armaments from the UK. Several human right organizations and charity groups have repeatedly rebuked the British government for allowing the export of military equipment and arms to Saudi Arabia, warning that the gear could prolong the Yemen war as it would be used to help the Saudi forces conduct indiscriminate attacks in the Arab country.

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