Revealing new details on Saudi takeover emerge as journalist receives government documents

Documents have been released to ChronicleLive showing that a decision on the NUFC takeover was close to being made.

They report that emails sent to the Premier League from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) claimed many times that a decision on the Saudi backed takeover was ‘imminent’. 

It’s also said that in June 2020, the British Government believed a decision was just ‘hours away’ and was instructed to organise a top-level Whitehall meeting in anticipation.

ChronicleLive and in particular Andrew Musgrove, have been fighting for these documents to be released for six months and can now reveal the information stated in these emails. 

On the 21st April 2020 – the Premier League confirmed the beginning of the owners and directors test – stating that they will go through all of the ‘rigorous processes looking at PIF and all individuals names as directors.’

Interestingly, in the same email the Premier League say they had also spoken to the Saudi desk of the Foreign Office, however part of this email was blanked out – why?

The DCMS told ChronicleLive this is because they are ‘continuing to use the information at issue here to inform the development of our ongoing policy and we, therefore, contend that to release the information would put undue pressure on the foreign policy – making process by opening it up to intense public scrutiny and speculation.’

‘This would result in decisions being continuously questioned. This intense scrutiny may result in decisions being taken, that are made simply to avoid adverse public backlash rather than to further the quality of the policy. This is clearly not in the public interest, nor would it represent an efficient use of public money.’

In other emails, the DCMS asked the Premier League if there is anything they would ‘suggest’ or ‘be comfortable with’ in respect of a ‘public line if raised by the select committee’.

Something that feels very relevant to the ongoing takeover saga is when the Secretary of State Oliver Dowden was asked about the takeover – seemingly agreeing with the consortium that PIF and the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman are separate entities. 

If the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport believed PIF and the Crown Prince were separate entities, why couldn’t the Premier League? Conflict of interests and one of the Premier Leagues many excuses to drag this takeover on and on?

12th June 2020 – The DCMS ask the Premier League to confirm or deny a decision on the takeover is imminent. The Premier League respond that day, telling the DCMS that they are ‘on a call’ regarding the matter, and that ‘confidentially, we are not expecting a decision today nor imminently.’

The Premier League also told the Foreign Office that they would be kept up to date and would provide an update – which were not included in the documents shown to ChronicleLive. 

19th June 2020 – The DCMS send an email sighting departmental sources who believed a decision could be made that day. The email notes that the secretary of state is set to feature on BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions later in the day and ‘so it would obviously be good to have a heads up.’

The Premier League responds to the email, writing: “There is not going to be any decision today – so not sure where that is coming from.”

They also reiterate their intention to give the DCMS, FCO and Department for International Trade ‘good notice’ of any decision. 

21st June 2020 – 4:35pm –  The DCMS writes to the Premier League with the understanding that a decision is ‘imminent now.’

It notes that there is a ‘senior cross Whitehall’ meeting on June 22nd on the topic of Saudi Arabia and asks for an update from the Premier League in advance.

This update on the 21st June was also the only time during the process Craig Hope, of the Daily Mail, believed the takeover was close due to the increased involvement from the British Government who are ‘keen to preserve and strengthen Saudi ties.’

21st June 2020 – 9:01pm – The Premier League confirms that a decision on the takeover is ‘possible’ the following day, so it is ‘worth letting people know that a meeting may be needed.’

However the Premier League also stated ‘not for the first time, it is also possible that some further time will be deemed necessary should the board feel that the information they have received is still incomplete or needs more time to examine.’ 

They also add that ‘is no set time in which a decision will be made’ and that it ‘would like’ to let all the relevant government departments know what the decision is as soon as it is taken.

The email then states ‘inevitably, that means a bit of the Grand Old Duke of York routing is likely, but we are in new territory with this case and the timings remain uncertain.’ Whatever that means I do not know, however a lot of people believe it to mean that the PL marched us up the hill, to march us back down again. 

What changed during these times from being hours away from a decision, to ‘there is no set time in which a decision will be made’? 

Amanda Staveley and the consortium wanting to take the club over were confident throughout the process, and fans can now see why they felt a decision was going to be made ‘imminently’. 

ChronicleLive reveal in the report they submitted FOI (Freedom of Information) to ask questions based on what had been released at the time and has taken since October 2020 for these emails to be released to the public. 

Something many fans believe played a part in the downfall of the takeover process was the appointment of Gary Hoffman on the 1st June 2020. Hoffman was ‘warned’ by close friend and BeIN Sport presenter Richard Keys on the takeover saga when he first took the job. Keys was very outspoken on the matter a year ago and did not want this takeover to happen based on piracy and human rights issues. 

As we all know, arbitration carries on in the background – which Nick De Marco and Shaheed Fatima are building a case to prove the separation of PIF and the Crown Prince. 

A reference by the Premier League themselves that the takeover has left them in ‘new territory’ may be going to show that their owners and directors test is not fit for purpose and something that De Marco could pounce on. 

We wait and see the outcome of arbitration – which has been suggested will not be finalised until after the season has finished. However, this news this morning has gave hope to a lot of fans, including myself, that Nick De Marco and Shaheed Fatima will be successful in pushing this long awaited takeover through.

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