Newcastle takeover in doubt as WTO finds Saudi involvement in piracy

Newcastle takeover in doubt as WTO finds Saudi involvement in piracy”

The World Trade Organisation has ruled that Saudi Arabia was behind a pirate satellite TV and streaming service that illegally broadcast sporting events - and in doing so has increased the pressure on the Premier League to reject a controversial £300m deal for Newcastle.

Qatar filed its complaint in 2018, saying Saudi Arabia was blocking Qatari-owned broadcaster beIN and refusing to take effective action against alleged piracy of beIN's content by "beoutQ", a sophisticated pirating operation.

The 125-page WTO decision makes clear there is comprehensive evidence that the illegal beoutQ service was promoted and supported by the Saudi government, and rules that the Saudis are also in breach of their obligations under global law as a result.

"Saudi Arabia has a strong record of protecting intellectual property and is committed to applying its national law and procedures in full conformity with WTO rules", Saudi Arabia's mission to the WTO said in a statement.

Campaigners, including the fiancee of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, have argued that due to MBS' involvement and the kingdom's notorious human rights abuses, Riyadh should be disqualified from buying-out the English Premier League side. The beoutQ set-top boxes still allow content to be accessed illegally however, via internet protocol television (IPTV) apps.

"Saudi Arabia did not contest the content of these tweets", the WTO panel said.

'Qatar has established that Saudi Arabia has not provided for criminal procedures and penalties to be applied to beoutQ despite the evidence establishing prima facie that beoutQ is operated by individuals or entities under the jurisdiction of Saudi Arabia, ' the WTO concluded.

"Those seeking to follow beoutQ's example should be in no doubt that UEFA will go to great lengths to protect its property and support its partners, whose investment in football helps it to remain the world's most popular sport from grassroots to elite level".

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The only obvious victor was the media because, confusingly for many Newcastle fans, everybody was claiming they had won - whether they want to see the takeover succeed or fail, whether they were seeing things from a Saudi or Qatar / beIN Sports perspective.

Florian Lejeune and Allan Saint-Maximin were the goalscorers as Newcastle beat Hull 2-0 in a friendly at St James' Park (pictures courtesy of Newcastle FC).

Newcastle's new owners will need to pass a fit and proper test before they get a majority stake in the club.

When asked about the potential impact the WTO ruling could have on the Magpies takeover, Premier League chief executive Richard Masters said: "As you know, we take piracy very seriously".

The Saudis have the right to appeal the decision, while the WTO panel also supported their claim that they could block Qatari broadcaster beIN Sports from taking legal action in the country based on national security grounds.

beIN cited "rampant piracy" as part of its decision to lay off over 100 members of staff at its Doha offices this week.

The deal is now awaiting approval via the Premier League's owners' and directors' test, which looks into the background of prospective club owners.

The final answer now rests with the Premier League. "We stand by what we said on the record in the past but as you know, as to do with anything to do with takeovers, I can't say anything about the substance or the timing".

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