An official with a leading human rights group says the Premier League will need to “re-examine the assurances made” about Saudi Arabian state involvement in Newcastle United after a court filing in the US named the club’s chairman as “a sitting minister of the Saudi government.”
The Premier League previously said it received “legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle United” during the club’s controversial takeover by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF) in 2021.
The PIF is a sovereign wealth fund chaired by Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and the man who a US intelligence report named as responsible for approving the operation that led to the 2018 murder of Washington Post columnist journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Bin Salman has denied involvement in Khashoggi’s murder.
In a document filed Tuesday in a California court, lawyers representing the PIF and Newcastle chairman and PIF governor Yasir al-Rumayyan describe the fund as a “sovereign instrumentality of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” and al-Rumayyan as “a sitting minister of the Saudi government.”
The statements were made by lawyers representing LIV Golf, owned by the PIF, in a lawsuit brought against the PGA tour.
Peter Frankental, Amnesty International UK’s Economic Affairs Director, said in a statement sent to CNN that “the Premier League will surely need to re-examine the assurances made about the non-involvement of the Saudi authorities in the Newcastle deal, not least as there’s still a Qatari bid for Manchester United currently on the table.”
Last month, Qatari Shiekh Jassim Bin Hamad Al Thani officially made a bid for English Premier League club Manchester United.
“It was always stretching credulity to breaking point to imagine that the Saudi state wasn’t directing the buyout of Newcastle United with the ultimate aim of using the club as a component in its wider sportswashing efforts,” added Frankental.
“Sportswashing” is the phenomenon of improving tarnished reputations through sport.
“In the 18 months since the Newcastle purchase, the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia has deteriorated markedly, with scores of executions after unfair trials, courts jailing peaceful critics, and the authorities continuing to block accountability for Jamal Khashoggi’s murder,” said Frankental.
“There’s an unmistakable irony in the sovereign wealth fund declaration emerging in a dispute about another arm of Saudi Arabia’s growing sports empire, but the simple fact is that Saudi sportswashing is affecting numerous sports and governing bodies need to respond to it far more effectively,” he added.
The Premier League declined to comment when approached by CNN.
CNN has reached out to the PIF and Newcastle United for comment.