Premier League chief executive Richard Masters has said that calls to block Newcastle United’s controversial Saudi Arabia-led takeover bid are being “fully considered”, but has refused to meet the fiancee of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Hatice Cengiz has spoken out against the intended actions of a consortium that is being backed by the Public Investment Fund, with an offer to buy Newcastle from Mike Ashley currently under consideration. In a letter sent by her lawyer, Rodney Dixon QC, Cengiz accused the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia of using “sportswashing” in order to cover up human rights abuses that have taken place in the Arab state.
Khashoggi was murdered in 2018 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul by government agents after repeatedly criticising the state, though his body has never been found.
As a result, Ms Cengiz has actively put pressure on the Premier League to rule the planned takeover of Newcastle as illegitimate due to their Owners and Directors’ Test, with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman responsible for the Public Investment Fund that is providing a substantial proportion of the £300m takeover.
“The rules would clearly not permit Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and the Public Investment Fund from acquiring Newcastle in light of the available, credible evidence about his involvement in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” Dixon said in a letter to Masters on behalf if Ms Cendiz.
In response, Masters has said that the “private and confidential” nature of the takeover process means that a meeting to discuss her concerns is not possible – along with the fact that her complaints have been given to the media – but did stress that Khashoggi’s murder does play a part in their review of the takeover.
In a letter seen by The Telegraph, Masters said: “Of course, I remain extremely sympathetic to your client’s position, but I am unable to correspond in any more detail than we have already on this matter.
“Our process is strictly private and confidential and must remain so.
“For this reason, a meeting is not possible particularly in light of correspondence on this confidential matter appearing in the media.
“However, I assure you and your client that her representations are being fully considered in our process.”
Cengiz reacted positively to the response, telling The Telegraph that she is confident the Premier League will “do the right thing” and refuse to allow the takeover to go through.
“Mr Masters’ response gives me optimism that the Premier League will do the right thing here,” Ms Cengiz said.
“I’m confident that if the Premier League follows their own rules and mandates, especially the Owners’ and Directors’ Test, they will block the takeover of Newcastle United by Mohammed bin Salman and the Public Investment Fund he chairs.
“Until Bin Salman is held accountable for his role in Jamal’s brutal murder, organisations must refrain from doing any business with him.”
The Crown Prince has strongly denied ordering the murder of Khashoggi. When appearing on United States network CBS, he was asked directly if he was behind the killing, to which he replied: “Absolutely not.”
Bin Salman did accept that he “took full responsibility” as the murder was “was committed by individuals working for the Saudi government”.
He added: “This was a mistake. And I must take all actions to avoid such a thing in the future.”