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WTO piracy ruling casts fresh doubt over Newcastle’s Saudi takeover

Getty ImagesThe World Trade Organisation (WTO) has issued a damning indictment of Saudi Arabia’s role in facilitating the transmission of pirate television broadcasts which could have grave implications for the Saudis’ prospective UK£300 million (U$375 million) takeover of top-flight English soccer side Newcastle United. The report, which is the culmination of an 18-month legal investigation carried out by the WTO, found that 'prominent Saudi nationals' promoted illegal broadcasts by the pirate network BeoutQ, contradicting the Saudis’ previous claims that the network, which used content from Qatari broadcaster BeIN, was acting independently of their influence. The findings, which were immediately welcomed by European governing body Uefa as well as the top club soccer competition in Spain and Germany, raise serious concerns over the suitability of members of Saudi Arabia’a public investment fund (PIF) to pass the Premier League’s owners and directors’ test in order to complete their 80 per cent investment in Newcastle. The WTO’s investigating panel said evidence provided by BeIN supported its assertion that 'BeoutQ’s piracy was promoted by prominent Saudi nationals', and that 'BeoutQ has received assistance from a Saudi content distributor in delivering its pirated broadcasts to Saudi consumers'. It concluded that 'the panel considers that Qatar has established a prima facie case that BeoutQ is operated by individuals or entities subject to the criminal jurisdiction of Saudi Arabia'. BeoutQ was involved in illegally broadcasting Premier League games via streaming and satellite, before switching off its satellite in August last year.

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