Mike Ashley is claiming at least £10m in legal proceedings against Amanda Staveley, the financier who acted as an intermediary when the British retail billionaire sold Newcastle United to an investor consortium led by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.
Ashley is claiming the sum, plus interest, over a £10m “vendor loan” he made to Staveley to cover “advisory, legal, and other costs and commissions” as they pursued the transaction, which was held up for months before completion last October.
Documents filed at the High Court in London show Ashley is accusing Staveley of breaching the terms of the loan, which contained a clause barring the defendants from criticising him publicly. However, the claim accuses Staveley of giving media briefings and interviews that broke the agreement.
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund was the lead investor in the £305m takeover of the Premier League club. The consortium, which also includes Staveley and the billionaire Reuben brothers, completed the deal despite concerns within football over human-rights issues in Saudi Arabia and the country’s alleged support of beoutQ, an Arabic-language pirate television network accused of illegally streaming Premier League matches.
The Premier League, which runs the top tier of English football, initially did not agree to the takeover, with approval coming after Saudi Arabia ended the piracy dispute with Qatar-based broadcaster beIN Sports, which had paid billions of pounds to acquire the TV rights.
Staveley’s husband, Mehrdad Ghodoussi, is the other defendant named in the claim as the guarantor.
The original repayment plan associated with the loan was 24 months to October 2023 but the documents show that a default would occur if Staveley or Ghodoussi “admonishes” Ashley or “diminishes” his reputation publicly. On November 17, Ashley called for immediate repayment of the loan but the documents said Staveley’s solicitors denied there had been a so-called event of default.
Ashley’s claim also alleges that Staveley had not made Ashley aware of plans to remove advertising for his Sports Direct and Flannels brands from St James’s Park, Newcastle’s stadium, and that he would have sought to factor this loss of marketing in the sale price of the club.
According to the filing, Staveley told Ashley over the telephone “shortly before” completing the deal on October 7 that Newcastle would “endeavour insofar as possible to maintain SRL’s [Sportsdirect.com Retail Limited] sponsorship rights until the end of the 2021/22 season” but instead gave 14 days’ notice of termination on November 15.
In response, a spokesperson for Staveley and Ghodoussi acknowledged the proceedings and said they “do not intend to comment on the details of the litigation. However, they are very confident of successfully defending the claim in full.”
“The litigation will not distract Ms Staveley or Mr Ghodoussi from their hard work at Newcastle United, particularly as they focus on the opportunities and deadlines presented by the January transfer window,” the statement added.
Rival clubs have previously attempted to prevent Newcastle United from signing sponsorship deals with entities linked to the club’s new Saudi owners, with the aim of ensuring that such deals are agreed at fair market value.