LONDON, England (AFP) – The fiancee of murdered dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi wrote on Tuesday to the Premier League warning that a Saudi-backed takeover of Newcastle United would “tarnish” the reputation of the competition.
Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor and US resident, was killed in 2018 while at Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul to obtain paperwork ahead of his wedding to Hatice Cengiz.
Turkish officials say a 15-man Saudi squad strangled him and cut his body into pieces. His remains were never found.
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, will reportedly take an 80-percent stake in Newcastle should a proposed £300 million ($373 million) takeover be approved by the Premier League.
But lawyers for Cengiz said in a letter on her behalf that the Premier League should block the takeover.
“It is undoubtedly the right, proper and lawful action for you (chief executive Richard Masters) and the Premier League to take, especially in light of the ruthless killing of Ms Cengiz’s fiance,” the letter said.
“There should be no place in the Premier League, and English football, for anyone involved in such abhorrent acts.”
The letter added: “The standing of both the Premiership and English football in general would be tarnished by your connection with those who commit the most appalling crimes and then seek to whitewash them, and who seek to use English football as a way of improving their image and hiding their transgressions.”
A Saudi court in December sentenced five people to death over the killing, handing three others long jail sentences and acquitting the remaining three charged in the case.
However, rights group Amnesty International condemned the outcome as a “whitewash”.
The two top figures investigated over the killing — both part of the crown prince’s inner circle — were exonerated.
Both the CIA and a United Nations special envoy have directly linked the crown prince to the killing, a charge the kingdom vehemently denies.
Critics have accused the Newcastle takeover bid as the latest example of Saudi “sports washing”.
In recent months the country has hosted a world title heavyweight boxing clash between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz and the Spanish Super Cup.
The Premier League must determine whether the bid fulfils its owners and directors’ test.
Oliver Dowden, the UK culture secretary, told a meeting of the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee last week it was a “matter for the Premier League” rather than government.
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) has not publicly commented on the deal.