‘Dark forces’ preventing Newcastle from being ‘powerhouse’, says Mike Ashley

Newcastle United’s owner, Mike Ashley, has claimed “dark forces” are preventing the struggling Premier League club from emerging as a football superpower after HMRC quietly discontinued a long-running investigation into its tax affairs.

In 2017 tax officials raided St James’ Park as part of a £5m fraud probe involving player agents and transfer fees. Amid considerable publicity Lee Charnley, Newcastle’s managing director, was arrested at his home around dawn and briefly taken into custody before being released without charge. Meanwhile a number of laptops and mobile phones were seized from offices within the stadium.

No formal charges were ever brought and HMRC has now given Newcastle formal confirmation that it is dropping the criminal investigation.

In a statement yesterday Ashley, who has initiated a second legal action against the Premier League relating to Newcastle’s failed Saudi Arabian-led takeover last year, hinted that there was a wider conspiracy against the club from within football. “After four years of the club being subjected to this investigation I am pleased the criminal investigation has now been discontinued,” he said.

“It is now time for the dark forces that are preventing this football club from becoming the powerhouse that the fans deserve to step aside.” The retail magnate is already pursuing an arbitration case against the Premier League as he endeavours to revive his collapsed £300m sale of Newcastle to the Saudis and on Thursday it emerged that he is also pursuing a separate anti-competition law action aimed at securing damages, interest and costs relating to the takeover.

The UK competition appeal tribunal (CAT) says it received a claim for damages from Ashley’s St James’ Holdings company on 22 April, under section 47A of the Competition Act 1998.

A court document stated: “The claim states that the defendant (the Premier League) exercised its power to block the proposed takeover when it decided the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would be a director exercising “control” over NUFC.

“In reaching the director decision, the defendant failed to apply the rules in a fair, objective and non-discriminatory fashion and/or used its powers under the rules for the improper purpose of promoting its own commercial interests and/or the interests of its business associates and/or certain of the Premier League member clubs in a manner that was detrimental to competition and consumers.”