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Why Yasir Al-Rumayyan's 'Ministerial Sovereign Immunity' could cause problems for NUFC

Updated: 3 days ago

H.E. Yasir Othman Al-Rumayyan

Saudi Arabia has a sovereign wealth fund of around $620bn as of the beginning of 2023. This fund is called the Public Investment Fund (PIF). It was established in 1971 as part of their wider economic strategy called 'Vision 2030'. This strategy, (broadly speaking), has been designed to steer Saudi Arabia away from oil and to diversify its economic revenue streams, by 2030. This agenda is being driven by the effects of climate change and is hoped it can provide financial sustainability for Saudi Arabia in the future.

For the past few decades, the PIF has been making various investments, including creating 71 companies in over 13 strategic sectors. These sectors include Transport, Shipping, renewable energies, stocks and shares, hospitality & tourism, digital technologies, real estate, retail, ecosystems, aerospace and defence, entertainment, sport and a range of others. It also invests in other well established companies, across a range of sectors, including Facebook, Uber, Disney, Mariot Hotels, BP, Bank of America and a range of other household names. Basically, the PIF has infiltrated all of our lives, whether we like it, or not, as it drives to reach $1.07tn by 2025.

For a full understanding of the PIF, it's objectives and investments, you can read it here.

The PIF is overseen by its Chairman H.R.H. Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Al-Saud. He is also the Crown Prince and Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia.

H.R.H. Prince Mohammed Bin Salman

Prince MBS is one of eight members of the PIF Board, which also includes the Newcastle Chairman H.E. Yasir Othman Al-

Rumayyan (pictured top). He is the Governor of the PIF. There are also six other board members who hold ministerial roles and an advisor at the Royal Court.

After a couple of years of legal complications, in October 2021 Newcastle United was sold by the CEO of Frasers (Formerly Sports Direct) Mike Ashley for around £305m.

Mike Ashley

A consortium bought the club made up of 80% PIF, 10% Amanda Stavely and her company PCP Capital Partners and 10% RB Sports and Media, owned by Jamie Reuben of the Reuben Brothers empire.

Yasir Al-Rumayyan was appointed chairman of the club.

The reasons for these delays are complex and protracted. They include Saudi Arabia failing to prosecute the pirate TV station beoutQ for screening Bein Sports football, but also the Premier League Chief Executive Richard Masters is on record as describing the complications of who would actually control Newcastle United.

Premier League CEO Richard Masters

In the end, the Premier League were given 'legally binding assurances' that the Saudi State would not be controlling the club. The details of this agreement are subject to 'confidentiality'.

Despite the clubs new owners passing the Owners and Directors tests, the Premier League and Newcastle United have come under fierce criticism by other PL clubs as to the ambiguity of Newcastle's ownership and investment, but also from Human Rights groups like Amnesty International. This is due to Saudi Arabias treatment and subjugation of women, the persecution of those who are LGBTQ+ and for the public executions of those treated as terrorists, for merely protesting against the government. This includes those we would deem as minors.

In addition, although H.R.H. Prince MBS will never face a court process, the security services of both the UK and USA are satisfied that he sanctioned the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khoshoggi, when he was assassinated and mutilated by KSA Agents in an Istanbul hotel in October 2018.

Yasir Al-Rummayan subpoenaed to court

Saudi Arabia's PIF also finance LIV Golf who are a professional golf tour. LIV are the Roman Numerals for 54 which refers to the score if every hole resulted in a birdie on a par 72 course.

LIV Golf are currently in dispute with PGA Tour, resulting in PGA Tour submitting a lawsuit against LIV Golf in California, USA. As part of this, a San Josè Federal District Court Judge has subpoenaed Yasir Al-Rumayyan to court for:-

Documents produced by LIV reveal that P.I.F. and Mr. al-Rumayyan were instrumental in inducing players to breach their tour contracts,” the tour told the judge Tuesday, when it complained that the wealth fund and its leader had been “exercising near absolute authority” over the circuit.

In its simplest form many believe LIV Golf to be sports-washing to cover up Saudi Arabia's human rights record. This lawsuit includes access to the PIF 'books' in relation to LIV Golf.

Lawyers representing the PIF and LIV Golf have responded by stating:-

“The order is an extraordinary infringement on the sovereignty of a foreign state that is far from justified here. The PIF and His Excellency Yasir Othman al-Rumayyan are not ordinary third parties subject to basic discovery relevance standards.They are a sovereign instrumentality of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and a sitting minister of the Saudi government, and they cannot be compelled to provide testimony and documents in a US proceeding unless their conduct – not LIV’s or anyone else’s – is truly the ‘gravamen’ of the case.”

In response, U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan van Keulen in a Feb. 16 decision said the PIF and Al-Rumayyan are not protected by the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act because of a commercial activity exception and her reason has 'broad implications for Saudi Arabia beyond this case'.

This case is likely to drag on until the beginning of next year, as these complex issues are tested and resolved.

What does this mean for Newcastle United?

Clearly, this official response by Saudi Arabia in the PGA Tour trial has potential ramifications for Newcastle United. A legal precedence has been set as two important legal claims have been made. Firstly that Yasir is a 'sitting government minister' and secondly, he and the PIF have 'sovereign immunity'. At first glance, this suggests that the Saudi state are in fact in control of NUFC as there seems no distinguishable difference between the sovereign state of KSA, the PIF, or its board members.

Is Yasir Al-Rumayyan a sitting government minister?

If one were to read a document entitled PIF Law; in Chapter 4 Article 10 it states - 'The fund shall have a Governor at the rank of Minister. If the Governor's position becomes vacant, the board may assign another person to temporarily carry out his duties'.

This document is no longer available to see on the PIF.Gov website.

So, at first glance, it would appear that Yasir is in fact a minister and it could be reasonably argued that this would have been known to the PL when they carried out their owners and directors tests. Nothing to see here then it would seem...

However, if one is to investigate further, it should be noted that Yasir's position on the PIF board is described merely as Governor of the PIF, not as a minister, like six of the other board members. More tellingly, Yasir is not listed as a Government Minister on the Saudi Government Website. Researching further, there is nothing in Yasir's employment history that places him as a minister in the Saudi Government.

These facts force one to re visit the PIF Law document and reinterpret its possible meaning. When doing this it seems apparent that the term 'rank' could mean 'equivalent status' as it doesn't say 'position', or 'role'. In fact the article could mean anything, or nothing. It's value and possible meaning clearly shouldn't be relied on in isolation, as any supposition can and likely be wildly inaccurate.

Having said all that, the Saudi state have now officially declared him as a sitting minister for the government in a court case, despite no reference to him as a minister otherwise. I'm uncertain as to why they did this, but it's entirely possible that it was done out of desperation to protect the PIF's integrity, or a simple faux pas. This official position has clearly now reignited concerns by other PL clubs as to who actually controls NUFC, but also for Human Rights groups.

More importantly (for me personally), they are claiming that he and the PIF have sovereign immunity. It's this claim that worries more most, as this has potential ramifications for our club going forward.

Is NUFC being controlled by the Saudi state if a 'sitting government minister', with sovereign immunity, is our chairman?

This is difficult to answer but if the answer is no, then what does 'state control' actually look like? What would be different? It all looks messy to me and really, not least because we could do without the bad press. Worst case scenario, it could result in some serious sanctions for the club.

One should also be under no illusion that behind the scenes, official representations will be getting drawn up, for which the PL will be legally bound to investigate. The tectonic plates of the legal system will take a long time to turn on this situation, but the gears will undoubtedly be grinding.

Also, what would happen if a future sponsor had a dispute with the club similar to PGA? What would happen if the PL were forced to charge NUFC for financial irregularities (like Man City) in the future and it went to court? What would happen if Yasir killed someone in his car whilst on his phone? What if he were accused of a sexual assault? Yes, you're right. They can claim Sovereign Immunity if they wish.

Personally, I want our club to be transparent, with clear and definitive legal boundaries with the Saudi State, that can be legally interrogated if necessary. I want the PIF to be accountable to financial analysis and scrutiny and not to be able to play the 'sovereign immunity' card, should it suit them. If this means Yasir stepping down as Chairman, then so be it.

I've been a passionate Newcastle United fan for a very long time, but sometimes, one's passion for their club should not cloud one's moral compass and this instance, my moral boundaries are stretched.

As a result of these latest revelations and at the time of writing this article, neither NUFC, the PL, nor the PIF have responded to official requests for a comment.


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