Fiancée of murdered journalist asks fans to oppose Newcastle’s Saudi takeover
‘Now is the moment to stand tall together for the game, your club, your city and country’
Hatice Cengiz is the fiancee of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Photograph: Getty Images
Mike Ashley, Newcastle’s owner, has agreed a £300m deal with a consortium comprising the financier Amanda Staveley, the property company Reuben Brothers and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. The plan is for PIF to assume an 80 per cent stake and, with the deal in its fifth week of scrutiny by the Premier League, completion could be close.
Although the vexed issue of the kingdom’s human rights record is beyond the parameters of the Premier League’s owners’ and directors’ test, the governing body is examining allegations of broadcast piracy against Saudi Arabia. Newcastle’s prospective Saudi majority owners have denied any link to the BeoutQ piracy.
Cengiz, whose fiancé was killed inside Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Istanbul in 2018, believes that remit should be extended to the country’s human rights abuses, already highlighted by Amnesty International. Newcastle fans have no direct power to veto the buyout but she hopes they will demand the Premier League block a deal many regard as a blatant attempt to “sportswash” Saudi’s international image.
“I write to you at a crucial time in the history of your famous club,” wrote Cengiz in an open letter to Newcastle fans. “Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the absolute ruler of Saudi Arabia, is aiming to take over your club by offering a huge sum of money.
“I know that many of you are tempted by his offer to get out of the dire situation that has crippled your club for so many years. But the Crown Prince is accused of ordering Jamal’s murder. My plea to you is to think whether accepting [THE]offer is really the right way out of the despair for your club.
“You as the loyal fans do have a big say in this. I implore you all to unite to protect your beloved club and city. They are making this move not with your best interests in mind, but solely to serve themselves. Their hearts will not genuinely be in the club that means everything to you. Now is the moment to stand tall together for the game, your club, your city and your country in order to slam shut the door on this offensive deal.”
Saudi Arabia has described Khashoggi’s murder as a rogue operation of which the heir to the throne knew nothing. An investigation by Agnès Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, found that Saudi Arabia was responsible under human rights law for the murder and that it was “inconceivable” the operation that resulted in his death could not have been implemented without Bin Salman being aware a criminal mission was being launched against the journalist.
Despite the late emergence of new documents related to alleged broadcast piracy, sources close to the takeover remain optimistic an agreement broadly welcomed by Newcastle fans will be approved in the near future. They maintain “no red flags” have been raised and that the delay has been partly prompted by the Premier League’s necessary preoccupation with Project Restart.
Meanwhile Ashley, who has received a £17m non-refundable deposit, is understood to be eager to see the balance paid in order to help address coronavirus-induced cashflow problems in his high street retail empire.
The Newcastle midfielder Jonjo Shelvey has revealed Steve Bruce’s players remain in the dark about the takeover. “We’re the same as the fans,” said Shelvey. “We don’t know what’s going on.” Although Shelvey said Ashley had “always been good to me”, the former England international would welcome a buyout. “I think it would be good for the fans, the club and the city.”
It is understood Newcastle have removed some employees from the government’s furlough scheme as active staffing levels rise ahead of the squad’s return to training next week.