The red flags raised by the Saudi buy out of the premier football club Newcastle United were detailed at the time by this site, which pointed to potential conflicts of the political and private interests of those involved.
In particular, SR queried whether any fees or financial favours had accrued from the decision to bring the Conservative super donor, Jamie Reuben (heir to the controversial billionaire Reuben brothers) into a deal which had been originally rejected by the Premier League on the grounds that this was plainly a purchase by a foreign government?
A legal case just launched by the vendor of the club, Mike Ashley, has now apparently provided an affirmative answer. Ashley is suing Amanda Staveley, who had led the bid for the Saudis, for not repaying a £10 million loan he advanced her to complete her own acquisition of a 10% stake in the final buy-out consortium.
The Saudis now hold a controlling 80%, meanwhile the super-wealthy heir to the billionaire Reuben brothers, Jamie Reuben, was brought in to secure the final 10% share of the new ownership (both Staveley and Reuben now occupy seats on the board of the club).
What Mike Ashley’s complaint against Staveley further alleges is that Jamie Reuben also furnished Staveley with a whopping £30.5 million loan to enable her to secure her 10% stake. If the allegation is true it means that Staveley’s earlier claims about how she had raised the cash may have been, to use the phrase du jour, ‘unintentionally misleading’. She had said that she raised the money by cashing in a hotel and drawing on family money.
The reason this is highly concerning on the good governance front is that Jamie Reuben is a major Conservative party donor and a long term key supporter of Boris Johnson’s own leadership campaigns. He sits at the centre of the wealthy social circle surrounding Johnson and his pro-Brexit ministers which locates itself at the Mayfair club known as 5 Hertford Street (where Reuben owns the lease).
The Conservative party Chairman appointed by Johnson, Ben Elliot, is at the centre of this same club circle and a close friend of Reuben. He is understood to have played a pivotal role in bringing the separate players together for the final purchase of the club. Elliot, a nephew of the Duchess of Cornwall, has founded various ‘concierge’ and PR companies whose business is to service the needs and provide access and connections for arrivistes amongst the super wealthy – people such as Reuben.
It was for this reason that Sarawak Report had earlier suggested that the involvement of Reuben in the newly reconfigured Newcastle deal ought to have been actively discouraged by the Conservatives on grounds of at least the perception of potential conflict, as opposed to have been actively encouraged by Elliot as appears to have been the case, given the crucial role played by government interventions.
The original rejection of the Saudi’s Newcastle bid by the Premier League was owing to rules that ban the purchase of clubs by entities controlled by foreign governments. However, that negative ruling was overturned by the specific intervention of Prime Minister Boris Johnson after the Saudi de facto ruler MBS complained to the UK Government that the Premier League was ‘wrong’ to veto the purchase and also made clear the matter would sour relations with the wealthy Gulf nation.
National interest is one thing and political decisions can be argued over in the case of this bulldozing of the rules by a prime minister who has gained a reputation for such behaviour. However, that even the whiff of a private interest could have entered into the equation is surely a matter of utmost seriousness?
As a right hand man to Boris Johnson Sarawak Report is reliably informed that Elliot took a central role in fixing the Newcastle bid solution, to the extent of making two trips to Saudi Arabia in the course of last year to discuss the matter with MBS. Elliot and Staveley are established close friends. The main feature of the newly configured bid is that both she and Reuben benefitted from a stake in the new structure that did not feature in the original Saudi proposals.
Thanks to the legal case it has now emerged that the money that was injected into Staveley’s share ownership was indeed advanced by Reuben – just the kind of behind the scenes deal Sarawak Report had raised concerns about. It means that Elliot and Johnson’s political intervention has been used to benefit their major donor with a stunning financial spin-off being included for Elliot’s friend and associate Amanda Staveley.
There remains one question that the access entrepreneur ought therefore now provide an answer to in the interest of proper political accountability and transparency, which is whether he or any of the companies or consultancies in which he has shares likewise benefitted in any way from the introduction of Reuben to the deal which Elliot fixed for the Saudis together with Boris Johnson?
For example, Elliot’s stake in the PR company he founded, Hawthorne Associates, is currently ‘held in trust’ through a former member of his staff and family friend. This is in acknowledgement of his present official political position and he has stepped down from the board. Besides this interest Elliot has a slate of other private companies which likewise ought to show transparency in this regard. Were any of these involved?
Given the evidence that favours were obtained by Staverley thanks to the intervention of the British Government in reversing the objections to this bid and injecting the Reubens into the deal Ben Elliot ought now put concerns at rest by confirming that his own efforts in the matter did not also result in benefit to himself or his companies as well.