LONDON — A trusted adviser to the billionaire Gulf owner of the English Premier League champion Manchester City has emerged as a key player in discussions to sell another Premier League club, Newcastle United, to a group led by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.
Documents reviewed by The New York Times show that the adviser, Ali Jassim, joined forces last year with a British businesswoman and an American socialite to shepherd the sale of Newcastle United to the Public Investment Fund, the Saudi state’s strategic investment arm, for as much as 350 million pounds ($439 million).
The Saudi fund, whose chairman is the kingdom’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, is in talks to become the majority owner of Newcastle in a deal with the club’s owner, the retail tycoon Mike Ashley. The Premier League is reviewing both the deal and the fitness of the proposed owners.
According to the cooperation agreement, Jassim, who is based in Puerto Rico, would join forces with Amanda Staveley, a British investment adviser he met while working on the purchase of Manchester City by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the brother of the ruler of the United Arab Emirates, and Carla DiBello, a socialite friend of Kim Kardashian West.
The involvement of such a diverse cast of rainmakers and middlemen in a plan to broker the sale of a Premier League franchise to Gulf interests underscores the enduring appeal of English soccer teams to global plutocrats. But it also shows the key role personal relationships can play in deals involving the most high-profile figures and institutions in the Arab world, and the rich rewards available to those who can forge them.
DiBello and Staveley’s roles in the Newcastle United sale have been reported, and each has a defined role in the process.
While DiBello has little experience in deals the size of the Newcastle sale, The Wall Street Journal reported that she has developed a close relationship with the Public Investment Fund’s governor, Yasir al-Rumayyan, who is representing the fund in the sale. Staveley, who for years has cultivated a public image highlighting her proximity to influential figures in the Gulf, is responsible for negotiating with Ashley.
Jassim’s role is less clear. The agreement describes him as having “significant experience in identifying, coordinating and consuming large cross-border transactions,” though it does not define his role in the proposed Newcastle acquisition.
A spokesman for the proposed ownership group declined to comment.
Of the three intermediaries, Staveley is the most familiar to British soccer fans. A regular on the sports and business pages of British newspapers for much of the past decade, she was linked with Gulf-backed efforts to buy into Liverpool and she played a key role in City’s sale to its Emirati owners. She is said to have negotiated a 10 percent stake in Newcastle should she manage to guide the Saudi-backed takeover bid to a successful conclusion.
The fate of the deal, which now also includes two billionaire British property investors, who would also own 10 percent of the team, remains uncertain. A Premier League review of the sale that started several weeks ago remains incomplete amid mounting criticism of the prospect of Saudi Arabia’s buying into the world’s most-watched soccer league.
Significantly, the Premier League has come under huge pressure to block the sale from beIN Media Group, a Qatari-owned television network, which accuses Saudi Arabia of pirating billions of dollars worth of its programming, including Premier League matches. Human rights groups have also lobbied the Premier League to block the sale. The league is not known to have stopped a sale of a team to any owner with the resources to acquire it.
The Newcastle talks come at the same time Staveley is involved in a billion-dollar lawsuit related to the multibillion-dollar rescue of the British bank Barclays by Sheikh Mansour at the height of the financial crisis in 2008. Staveley has accused Barclays of costing her an investment in what would have been a lucrative deal.
Jassim, who eventually helped Staveley receive 30 million pounds (about $37.5 million) for her efforts, has agreed to appear as a witness in the lawsuit.
Jassim, who was also involved in Sheikh Mansour’s purchase of Manchester City, appeared to develop a close friendship with Staveley around that time, according to text message transcripts submitted in evidence. In one, he declared that he would “always have ur back” as the tensions over payments from Barclays started to grow.
“U are very dear to me,” he said in another message, before adding, “We have a fruitful future together.”
Jassim is scheduled to give evidence via video link from Puerto Rico on June 22.
Premier League officials are likely to be paying close attention, given Staveley’s interests — and now Jassim’s, too — in the Newcastle sale.
Last week, the court heard that Staveley’s firm, PCP Capital Partners, faced questioning from Britain’s financial regulator in 2009 amid concerns it was conducting activities it was not authorized to at the time of the Barclays bailout.
Any revelations that emerge could result in a new investigation, and further scrutiny from the Premier League over her suitability to become a Premier League owner. Staveley told the court that her firm had always acted within the rules.
A ruling in the lawsuit is not expected until October, by which time the Premier League is expected to have made a decision on the Newcastle sale. The team will return to the field this week, when the league resumes its season after a three-month hiatus.