Is HMRC action forcing Mike Ashley to sell Newcastle United? Fit and proper person and all that…

    Mike Ashley had pretended he was trying to sell Newcastle United for over a decade.

    In 2008 he undermined and forced out Kevin Keegan, the NUFC owner provoking the Newcastle United fans into mass demonstrations against his actions.

    The response from Mike Ashley to this, was to come out and make a public statement, saying to the supporters they could stop their protests because he promised to sell the club as soon as possible.

    As we discovered on so many other issues and public statements from Mike Ashley and his puppets / friendly journalists, you can’t believe anything he says.

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    Repeatedly Mike Ashley claimed he was keep trying to sell Newcastle United but a bit like somebody who claims they are genuinely trying to sell their house and it is still unsold 10 years later, you know it is absolute nonsense.

    Then suddenly we had a 180 turn from Mike Ashley, he was now genuinely trying to sell NUFC and had indeed agreed a deal to sell the football club.

    The ‘only’ thing needed for the sale to the Saudi PIF, Amanda Staveley and Reuben brothers consortium, was Premier League approval…

    So what had changed? Why was Mike Ashley willing to sell now, when he had kidded us along for all those years?

    For most Newcastle fans, I think the assumption was simply that Ashley had something else he was keen to use the £300m+ NUFC sale price for. Propping up his struggling retail empire and / or buying up other companies / brands that are struggling even more in the current economic climate.

    However, with ‘fit and proper owners’ of Premier League clubs being the big topic of the moment, I wonder whether Mike Ashley has another reason why he is so keen to sell?

    After the bidders statement on Thursday, Keith Downie of Sky Sports on Friday confirmed that Mike Ashley was still desperate to sell NUFC:

    The Sky Sports man reporting Lee Charnley Friday morning statement:

    “We acknowledge yesterday’s statement [from the Saudi PIF backed bidders].

    “Never say never, but to be clear Mike Ashley is 100% committed to this deal (sale).

    It is now three years since HMRC raided Newcastle United club premises regarding alleged underpayment tax and national insurance, with the matter still to be concluded.

    However, only two months ago, the club when releasing the official accounts for the previous (2018/19) season, included the following.

    9 June 2020 – Newcastle United official 2018/19 accounts:

    Strategic Report

    Contingent Liabiity

    ‘In April 2017 HMRC attended certain Company premises and executed a search warrant.

    Subsequent to these events, Newcastle United Football Club Limited received claims from HMRC, relating to alleged underpayment tax and national insurance, and interest to date thereon.

    The amount that has been claimed by HMRC has been assessed by the Director (Lee Charnley) and an accrual has been made in the Company’s financial statements.

    The amount accrued represents a best estimate at this time of the amount which may be payable.

    The amount claimed excludes any amount which may be payable in respect of penalties and only reflects amounts the Company has been made aware of.

    Claims have been lodged against these assessments, and the matter remains in the hands of the Company’s legal advisers.

    In the opinion of the Director, at this stage in the process, there is insufficient information available to enable him to make a reliable estimate of either the un-accrued amount of any liability which may ultimately arise in this regard, or when any such sums may become payable.’

    It remains to be seen what the outcome of the HMRC investigation is, but from reading the above, no surprise if there isn’t a serious amount of money that Newcastle United will end up having to pay.

    As for additional penalties on top, who knows?

    My question is though, if Newcastle United are indeed found guilty of having seriously underpaid tax and national insurance to HMRC, how would the Premier League then see Mike Ashley in terms of their now legendary ‘fit and proper’ owner test?

    Would they compel him to sell the club and indeed is that why he is suddenly so keen now to do so?

    I have no doubt that he would throw Lee Charnley under a bus and try to lay any blame solely on his MD.

    However, if HMRC do find the club guilty of wrongdoing, it would be a big stretch for the owner to claim he wasn’t aware of how his own business operates.

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