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Newcastle chairman seized assets on MBS's behalf during Saudi purge: Report

Close aide to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Newcastle chairman Yasir al-Rumayyan to seize and transfer 20 companies to Riyadh's sovereign wealth fund in 2017

The new chairman of Newcastle United was involved in the controversial "anti-corruption" campaign in Saudi Arabia that included the seizure and transfer of dozens of companies on behalf of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, according to newly revealed court documents. 

Yasir al-Rumayyan, Newcastle's new chairman who also runs Riyadh's Public Investment Fund (PIF), was ordered to seize and transfer 20 companies to the sovereign wealth fund in 2017, the Guardian reported. According to internal Saudi documents filed to a civil court in Canada as part of an unrelated case, a close aide to Prince Mohammed - known as MBS - ordered Rumayyan to make the transfers. 

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The PIF, which MBS chairs, came under intense scrutiny during negotiations for the Newcastle sale. While six of the fund’s eight other board members are Saudi government ministers and one is a royal court adviser, the Saudi government has insisted that the PIF is an entity independent of the state. 

The buyout had all but failed until earlier this month, when the Premier League announced that it had approved the Newcastle deal, saying it had been given "legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control" the club. What those assurances entail has not been made public. 

 The move came after the Saudi-led consortium that had been trying to buy Newcastle withdrew its bid in 2020. In the end, the PIF provided the consortium 80 percent of the money for the £300m ($407m) deal.

Rights groups have long been opposed to the Newcastle sale, as Riyadh has been accused of a wide range of human rights abuses, including the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which US intelligence has ruled was ordered by the crown prince. 

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According to the newly revealed court documents, the charter jet company that was later alleged to have been used in the Saudi plot to kill Khashoggi was one of the companies transferred to the PIF under Rumayyan in 2017. 

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The documents did not suggest Rumayyan had any involvement in or knowledge of the plot to kill Khashoggi, the Guardian reported. But the documents did suggest that the Saudi Crown Prince was able to order Rumayyan to take actions related to the PIF, the newspaper said.

The Saudi embassy in Washington did not respond to Middle East Eye's request for comment by the time of this article's publication. 

Rumayyan, a former banker, also serves as the chairman of the oil firm Saudi Aramco. He has overseen investments by the PIF worth billions of dollars, including those in Uber, Facebook, Disney and Citibank. He is reportedly due to attend his first Newcastle match on Sunday in his new role as non-executive chairman of the club, the Guardian reported.

Civil suit in Canada

The internal documents in which Rumayyan's involvement was cited were filed in a Canadian court as part of a civil suit brought by Saudi-owned entities against Saad al-Jabri, Saudi Arabia's former spy chief. 

Jabri is accused of misspending state funds while working at the interior ministry under former Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who in 2017 was ousted, put under house arrest, and replaced by his cousin, MBS. 

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The court records relate to the infamous anti-corruption campaign led by MBS from November 2017, during which 400 of Saudi Arabia’s richest citizens - including princes and ministers - were rounded up and held incommunicado at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh.

Jaabri fled the country before the palace coup and landed in Canada in 2018, where he currently resides. Last year, Jabri, who has deep ties to the CIA, filed a lawsuit against MBS, claiming a 50-person hit squad, known as the "Tiger Squad", was sent to Canada in 2018 to kill him. Riyadh has denied the allegations.

Saudi Arabia announced it had ended its self-proclaimed crackdown on corruption in January 2019, saying it had boosted state coffers by more than $100bn.