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WTO ‘rules Saudi Arabia behind beoutQ piracy’

"Spidercam" - the aerial television camera used for overhead pictures in use during the second La Liga "El Clasico" of the season between Real Madrid and Barcelona at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid, Spain. | Location: Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Ben Radford/Corbis via Getty Images)

The World Trade Organization has ruled that the Saudi Arabian government operates the beoutQ pirate television service, it has been reported.

The WTO ruling is not due to be published until the middle of next month, but the Guardian has reported that it firmly establishes Saudi Arabia as being behind the broadcasting operation and in breach of international law.

It is also claimed that the English Premier League made submissions against Saudi Arabia as part of the WTO process. Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund is behind a proposed £300m (€331m/$363.5m) takeover deal for Premier League club Newcastle United.

If confirmed, the WTO ruling would mark a further ratcheting of pressure on Saudi Arabia after recent moves by US and EU authorities to flag the country’s copyright infringements.

A group of eight major rights-holders, comprising Fifa, Uefa, the AFC and Europe’s top five football leagues, had previously tried and failed to take legal action against beoutQ in the Saudi Arabian courts.

Saudi Arabia has always denied being behind beoutQ. The channel was launched in the wake of the Saudi-led economic blockade of Qatar which began in June 2017.

BeoutQ has challenged the dominance of Qatari pay-television operator beIN Media Group and its beIN Sports premium channels. BeIN has become the dominant pay-television operator in the Middle East and North Africa over the last decade. Its sports programming has been reproduced virtually in its entirety on the beoutQ platform.

The beoutQ broadcasts are no longer carried on Arabsat’s satellite platform but persist through IPTV set-top boxes. Arabsat has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

The Riyadh-based Saudi PIF is looking to secure an 80-per-cent stake in Newcastle as part of a consortium including Dubai-based financier Amanda Staveley and the billionaire Reuben brothers, David and Simon.

Yousef al-Obaidly, the beIN Media Group chief executive, recently wrote to Premier League chief executive Richard Masters and the chairmen of the respective clubs, urging the league to consider blocking the proposed takeover. The broadcaster’s letter to Premier League chairmen informed them of Saudi Arabia’s “theft of clubs’ intellectual property and commercial rights for nearly three years”.

BeIN Sports holds rights to the Premier League in the Middle East and North Africa region as part of a three-year deal covering the 2019-20 to 2021-22 seasons.

Newcastle has been owned by Ashley since 2007.