Who is Mohammed bin Salman, chairman of chief Newcastle United owners PIF?
Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, chairs the Public Investment Fund, which leads the consortium that has taken over the Premier League club.
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which has acquired a majority stake in Premier League football club Newcastle United, is chaired by Mohammed bin Salman, the son of the Saudi king and the man considered the de facto ruler of the country.
Saudi-led consortium replaces Ashley at Newcastle United helm
PIF has bought an 80% stake in Newcastle, whose $415m sale was confirmed on Thursday. Following the announcement of the takeover, by a consortium also including PCP Capital Partners and RB Sports & Media, fans flocked to the club’s St James Park Stadium to celebrate the departure of unpopular former owner Mike Ashley.
“Ashley is gone and [I] almost have to pinch myself,” Newcastle’s legendary former striker Alan Shearer wrote on Twitter, while the BBC quoted the player-turned-pundit as saying it was a “special day” for the Magpies’ fans. However, he also accepted that with the arrival of Saudi-led ownership come legitimate concerns about the country’s human-rights record.
Amnesty International chief condemns Newcastle takeover
Reacting to the takeover, Amnesty International CEO Sacha Deshmukh said: “Under Mohammed bin Salman, the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia remains dire - with government critics, women’s rights campaigners, Shia activists and human defenders still being harassed and jailed, often after blatantly unfair trials.”
Deshmukh described PIF’s involvement in Newcastle United as “a clear attempt by the Saudi authorities to sportswash their appalling human rights record with the glamour of top-flight football”, adding: “The Premier League needs to better understand the dynamic of sportswashing and tighten its ownership rules.”
Bin Salman accused of ordering 2018 hit on Jamal Khashoggi
The Premier League says it has “received legally binding assurances” that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia won’t now be in control of Newcastle United, despite the fact the club's chief owners are headed up by Bin Salman, the 36-year-old Saudi crown prince who is widely seen as the man at the helm of a country officially led by his father, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. Six Saudi ministers are also on the PIF board.
Bin Salman has curried favour with western powers by overseeing some relaxations to prohibitions in place in the ultra-conservative kingdom, such as allowing women to drive. However, women and girls “remain subject to discrimination in law and practice” in Saudi Arabia, Amnesty International says, among a host of other human-rights violations perpetrated by the country's authorities, such as arbitrary arrests, the suppression of free speech, torture, and public beheadings.
In 2018, the dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed by Saudi agents at the country’s consulate in Istanbul - a murder Bin Salman has been accused of ordering. While the Saudi government has insisted Khashoggi’s death was at the hands of rogue operatives, a 2019 United Nations report said it "constituted an extrajudicial killing for which the State of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible".
Saudi Arabia’s treatment of the LGBTQ+ community is also a matter of grave concern, given that homosexuality remains illegal in the kingdom and, Amnesty notes, is “punishable by flogging and imprisonment”.
In a statement on Friday, United with Pride, Newcastle United’s official LGBTQ+ inclusive supporters group, acknowledged that Saudi Arabia “is one of the least tolerant [countries] for LGBTQ+”. Perhaps a shade optimistically, the group spoke of the “potential to be a positive influence to improving the conditions for the LGBTQ+ community in Saudi Arabia” in the wake of Newcastle’s Saudi-led takeover.