The Saudi sovereign wealth fund which owns Newcastle has taken majority stakes in four of the Middle Eastern country’s biggest clubs, including Cristiano Ronaldo’s team Al Nassr.
The Public Investment Fund (PIF) is taking 75 per cent stakes in Al Nassr, Asian Champions League finalists Al Hilal, Al Ahli and Al Ittihad, who are understood to be interested in signing Karim Benzema after his intention to leave Real Madrid at the end of the season was confirmed.
The PIF also own an 80 per cent stake in Newcastle following the completion of a protracted and controversial takeover in October 2021.
As part of today’s announcement of the Sports Clubs Investment and Privatization Project, four Saudi clubs – Al Ittihad, Al Ahli, Al Nassr, and Al Hilal – have been transformed into companies, each of which is owned by #PIF and non-profit foundations for each club. pic.twitter.com/TNZcbIniUE
— Public Investment Fund (@PIF_en) June 5, 2023
Sources close to the fund have told the PA news agency that the move to take controlling stakes in the four Saudi clubs does not constitute the creation of a multi-club ownership model involving Newcastle.
Each club will be managed by an independent board and have separate executive management, the sources said.
Clubs in the Saudi top flight, who have technically been owned by the country’s Ministry of Sport until now, are being privatised as part of a government initiative to help the sport further develop.
FIFA has been approached for comment on the issue.
A statement on the PIF Twitter account read: “As part of today’s announcement of the Sports Clubs Investment and Privatization Project, four Saudi clubs – Al Ittihad, Al Ahli, Al Nassr, and Al Hilal – have been transformed into companies, each of which is owned by PIF and non-profit foundations for each club.”
PIF said existing members of each club would be included in the four foundations and that the fund was working closely with the Ministry of Sport on the necessary regulatory procedures to complete the clubs’ transfers to their new structures as newly-founded companies alongside non-profit foundations.
“The transfer of the four clubs will unleash various commercial opportunities, including investment, partnership and sponsorships across numerous sports,” the PIF statement concluded.
The Saudi government said in a release from the country’s national press agency issued earlier on Monday that it hoped that as well as further bolstering participation in sport at grassroots level, the move to privatisation would raise the league’s revenues from 450million riyals (£96.7m) last year to 1.8 billion riyals (£386.7m) and increase its market value to more than 8bn riyals (£1.72bn) by 2030.
The extent to which the Saudi government controls Newcastle came back into the spotlight in February this year after the publication of court documents in the US.
The Premier League approved the PIF-led takeover of the club only after receiving “legally-binding assurances” that the Saudi state would not have control of the club.
However, documents from PIF’s legal team published in a court case related to the LIV Golf and PGA Tour dispute described PIF as “a sovereign instrumentality of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” and PIF governor and Newcastle chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan as “a sitting minister of the Saudi government”.
The Premier League has declined to comment on whether it had opened an investigation following the publication of the court documents.