Khashoggi fiance: Saudi takeover of Newcastle United would make Premier League 'complicit in murder cover-up'

Khashoggi fiance: Saudi takeover of Newcastle United would make Premier League 'complicit in murder cover-up'
Jamal Khashoggi's fiancee Hatice Cengiz said the Saudi acquisition of Newcastle United would make English football complicit in the journalist's murder.
4 min read
29 April, 2020
Hatice Cengiz is the fiancee of murdered Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi [Corbis/Getty]
The fiancee of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi has spoken out against a Saudi-backed consortium's attempted purchase of English Premier League football club Newcastle United.

Hatice Cengiz, in a letter sent by her solicitors, said the Saudi acquisition of the football club would make English football complicit in Khashoggi's murder and called on the Premier League to block the move, The Guardian reported.

Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF), which is overseen by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is seeking approval from the Premier League to become a majority stakeholder in the North East English club for a proposed £300 million. It is a deal that has been met with opposition from rights groups.

Gengiz has added her voice to those opposing the acquisition and questioned whether the takeover is compatible with the Premier League's charter.

The Premier League can block new owners if "in the reasonable opinion of the board" it can be determined they "engaged in conduct outside the United Kingdom" that would have resulted in a conviction in the UK had it taken place within the country.

"The proposed acquisition is not just 'business' for the crown prince and the Saudi authorities, but an attempt to evade justice and international scrutiny for an unconscionable act," said Cengiz's lawyer, Rodney Dixon QC.

"It would emasculate the Premier League's core principles and rules, and ruin its good reputation and character, to allow the crown prince and the Saudi authorities to use this acquisition to seek to repair their international standing."

Amnesty International has also written to the English Premier League asking for a full examination of Saudi Arabia's human rights violations before it decides whether to approve the country's sovereign wealth being used to buy Newcastle United.

"So long as these questions remain unaddressed, the Premier League is putting itself at risk of becoming a patsy of those who want to use the glamour and prestige of Premier League football to cover up actions that are deeply immoral, in breach of international law and at odds with the values of the Premier League and the global footballing community," Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen wrote last week to Premier League chief executive Richard Masters.

Amnesty raised concerns with Masters about the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul as questions linger over the crown prince's culpability.

Agnes Callamard, a UN special rapporteur who authored an inquiry into the killing, called for sanctions on Prince Mohammed and said responsibility for Khashoggi's killing falls on Saudi Arabia. The report found "sufficient credible evidence regarding the responsibility of the Crown Prince demanding further investigation".

Saudi Arabia's trial of 11 suspects in the Khashoggi killing was held in secret and does not include the crown prince's top adviser at the time - Saud Al-Qahtani, who has been sanctioned by the US for his suspected role in orchestrating the operation.

The prince, Amnesty's Allen pointed out to Masters, would become the "beneficial owner" of Newcastle through his chairmanship of the fund.

PIF's vision, overseen by Prince Mohammed, will ultimately pay for the mega-state projects that will modernise and overhaul the kingdom's economy and create jobs for young Saudis.

"The Crown Prince has been using sporting events and personalities as a means of improving the Kingdom's reputation following the grisly murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi — widely believed to have taken place with his approval," Allen wrote to the Premier League.

"Such positive associations with sporting events also distract attention from Saudi's appalling human rights record, including the imprisonment and torture of women human rights defenders."

PIF's London-based media advisers have declined comment on the takeover. Teneo, the communications firm working for the billionaire Reuben brothers, confirmed they were involved in trying to obtain part of Newcastle but declined to discuss Saudi human rights.

Ashley, who bought Newcastle in 2007 and owns the Sports Direct chain of retail stores, commented in 2018 on previous takeover talks with Staveley that collapsed but he has been silent on this latest attempt to complete the deal.

The Premier League has not commented on the Newcastle takeover but lodged its own complaint against Saudi Arabia last year.

Read more: BeIN Sports calls on Premier League to block Saudi Arabia's Newcastle United takeover

The English top-flight was a signatory on a joint letter from soccer bodies, including FIFA, condemning the theft of broadcasting rights by Saudi-backed pirate network beoutQ.

They denounced "persistent and illegal screening" of games where Qatar’s beIN Sports owns the Middle East rights.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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