Newcastle United's owners have admitted that Mike Ashley did make a “proposal” to retain a small stake in the club during takeover discussions — but insist that all members of the consortium “opposed” this move.
In an amended claim filed to the High Court, as part of his litigation against Amanda Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi, Newcastle’s co-owners, Ashley, via his company, St James Holdings Limited, claimed earlier this month that Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF) “had been open” to him continuing as a minority shareholder.
However, in their amended defence, Staveley and Ghodoussi refute this suggestion, insisting that PIF, the 80 per cent majority stakeholders, “opposed Mr Ashley's proposal to retain a minority shareholding” following the £305 million takeover, which was completed on October 7, 2021.
The Newcastle co-owners insist that Ashley made the proposal before April 8, 2020, rather than “in or around July 2021”, as the retailer claimed. They state that the consortium rejected this offer, “in part because of the extensive criticism that had been directed at Mr Ashley by Newcastle United FC fans and the press” and because they “believed Mr Ashley was likely to disagree with” their “capital expenditure proposals for investing” in the club.
The club's most recent accounts confirmed that, as of May 17, Newcastle's ownership had injected £167.9 million worth of equity funding into the club since assuming control — much of which was used to cover a £92 million outlay on transfers in January — with more expected to follow.
Ashley is suing Staveley and Ghodoussi for immediate repayment of a £10 million loan made during the takeover to cover legal and other costs, plus interest accrued, claiming terms were breached when Staveley said she was “looking forward” to removing Sports Direct signage at St James’.
One of the terms said the parties agreed not to “make any statement or comment which is derogatory or otherwise in bad faith in relation to the other party or otherwise bring the other party into disrepute”.
Staveley insists she intended to convey that she was looking forward to breaking the association between Ashley and Newcastle. The financier and her husband, Ghodoussi, deny Ashley's allegations.
Having initially outlined his case to London’s High Court of Justice on December 29 — to which Staveley and Ghodoussi filed a defence on February 12 — Ashley issued an amended claim earlier this month, with the co-owners' amended defence then submitted on June 24.
In their interview with The Athletic in February, Ghodoussi and Staveley were asked about Ashley’s initial claim. “We’re genuinely disappointed and we will contest it vigorously,” Ghodoussi said. “We thought we had a good relationship with Mike. To his credit, he pushed very hard to get this deal done. We couldn’t have done it without him. He always said he wanted to sell the club to the right people and he has sold the club to the right people. We’ve never said anything negative about him.”
“I’m saddened,” Staveley said. “This is a real shame because I like him a lot. And I’m proud of what we did.”
On the £10 million loan, Ashley’s initial case claimed that, “PCP and the First Defendant (Staveley) were also unable to meet the advisory, legal, and other costs and commissions associated with PCP’s participation in the SPA (sales and purchase agreement). Therefore, and in order for the whole transaction to be able to proceed, the Claimant agreed to lend the First Defendant the funds required to pay PCP’s bill.”
“As the defence says, we incurred costs that were for the benefit of the whole consortium,” Staveley said four months ago. “Mike wanted very much a deal done very quickly and that meant we made a decision which meant he could close quickly. We took that burden on.”