MIKE ASHLEY has claimed that “dark forces” are preventing Newcastle United from becoming a “football powerhouse” after HMRC dropped their investigation into the club’s tax affairs.

Newcastle have been the subject of an HMRC investigation since 2017, when tax officials dramatically raided St James’ Park as part of a £5m fraud investigation.

Magpies managing director Lee Charnley was briefly taken into custody before being released without charge, while business and financial records were seized along with laptops and mobile phones.

No formal charges were ever brought, and HMRC have now discontinued their case, leaving Newcastle United in the clear.

A Newcastle statement said: “HMRC has today given formal confirmation that it is discontinuing the four-year long criminal investigation into the tax treatment of agents/players payments involving Newcastle United Football Club.”

Ashley also issued his own statement, in which he seemed to suggest there was a wider footballing conspiracy against the Magpies.

The Newcastle owner has initiated arbitration proceedings against the Premier League in an attempt to facilitate the resurrection of a proposed takeover deal led by North Yorkshire financier Amanda Staveley and financed, in part, by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF).

The £300m takeover deal collapsed last June when the Premier League failed to complete its owners and directors’ test amid suggestions that the governing body was unable to make a clear distinction between the PIF and the wider Saudi Arabian state who had been implicated in issues of broadcasting piracy.

Ashley’s statement said: “After four years of the club being subjected to this investigation, I am pleased that the criminal investigation has now been discontinued.

“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.”

As well as pursuing an arbitration hearing against the Premier League, it has also been revealed that Ashley is pursuing a separate legal action aimed at securing damages, interest and costs relating to the collapsed takeover.

The UK Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) says it received a claim for damages and/or an injunction from Ashley’s St James' Holdings company on April 22, under section 47A of the Competition Act 1998.

The CAT is a specialist judicial body which hears and decides cases involving competition or economic regulatory issues.

St James' Holdings vs the FA Premier League is an attempt by Ashley to recoup losses he feels were accrued as a direct result of the Premier League unfairly scuppering his proposed sale of Newcastle.

A court document released today states: "The claim states that the defendant exercised its power to block the proposed takeover when it decided between June and September 2020 that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would be a director exercising “control” over NUFC, for the purposes of the rules (“the director decision”).

"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 PL member-clubs in a manner that was detrimental to competition and consumers."

The court note continues: "According to the claim, the defendant’s conduct in purportedly applying the rules was a decision (or decisions) of an association of undertakings, an agreement between an association of undertakings and/or a concerted practice that had as its object or effect the prevention, restriction or distortion of competition on the relevant markets.

"The defendant also abused its dominant position on the relevant markets by preventing, alternatively impeding, the consortium company from proceeding with the proposed takeover, by refusing to deal with the consortium company and by imposing unfair trading conditions on the consortium company.

"The claimant alleges that the defendant prevented, or hindered, the proposed takeover and knew that its actions would prevent and/or delay the proposed takeover.

"The prevention and/or delay of the proposed takeover was liable to and did distort and/or restrict competition between PL clubs.

"By its actions, the defendant infringed Article 101 TFEU and/or the Chapter I prohibition and/or Article 102 TFEU and/or the Chapter II prohibition.

"As a result of the breaches by the defendant, the claimant has suffered loss and damage. In particular, the claimant has lost the immediate sale, or lost the likely opportunity of an immediate sale of its shares in NUL (which owns NUFC) to the consortium company."

The papers relating to St James' Holding vs the Premier League also reveal what Ashley is hoping to secure.

They state: "The claimant seeks:

(1) Damages for loss of profit or, alternatively, loss of opportunity. (2) An injunction requiring the Defendant to withdraw the Director Decision and/or to reconsider the same. (3) Interest. (4) Costs. (5) Such further or other relief as the Tribunal considers appropriate."