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Possible Saudi takeover of Newcastle edges closer

London (AFP) – A potential takeover of English Premiership side Newcastle by a Saudi Arabian-backed group appeared to move closer on Tuesday after legal documents were lodged with the UK’s regulator of companies.

But several other proposed bids to buy the club from Mike Ashley have all come to nothing during the controversial British businessman’s 13 years as owner of the northeast side.

Those include a 2017 proposal put forward by Amanda Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners, who are the firm involved in the latest possible purchase.

Documents filed at Companies House last week came to light on Tuesday, with the papers providing a framework for talks between PCP and Ashley.

In January, Ashley was reported to be in talks to sell Newcastle for £340 million ($429 million), with the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund putting up most of the cash.

The Wall Street Journal suggested the Saudi group, led by Staveley and backed primarily by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s wealth from the oil-rich state, had been in discussions with Ashley for around four months.

While there is no mention of any Saudi participation in the latest Companies House documents, the involvement of Britain’s billionaire Reuben brothers, David and Simon, has been recorded.

After the collapse of Staveley’s highly-publicised previous takeover bid three years ago, Ashley insisted all such future negotiations would take place in private.

A Saudi purchase of Newcastle would be a major development in the state’s increasing involvement in sport that has seen it stage the recent world heavyweight title between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz and announce plans for a new Formula One racetrack that will host a Grand Prix in 2023.

But critics have accused Saudi Arabia of ‘sports washing’, saying the government is using sport as a way of distracting attention from its human rights record.

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