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Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the opening of the G20 leaders summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina November 30, 2018. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes/Files

Sergio Moraes/Reuters

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman does not intend to buy Manchester United, the kingdom’s government said, though it has confirmed its sovereign wealth fund held sponsorship talks with English football’s most successful team.

New York-listed United has been valued at around US$4-billion and British newspaper The Sun reported Prince Mohammed was stepping up a bid over the weekend.

The Crown Prince was at the centre of a global outcry last year over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. That put United’s already-close links with the Saudi government under scrutiny.

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Speculation has grown about Saudi interest in United since the club signed a “strategic partnership” with the kingdom’s General Sports Authority in 2017. But Saudi media minister Turki al-Shabanah has distanced the country from a takeover of one of the biggest brands in sports.

“Reports claiming that HRH the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman intends on buying @ManUtd are completely false,” al-Shabanah tweeted from a verified account.

United is owned by the Glazer family, who also own the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Glazers bought United in 2005 and maintained control after floating part of the record 20-time English champions on the New York Stock Exchange in 2012.

Al-Shabanah tweeted that United held a meeting with Saudi’s sovereign wealth fund “to discuss sponsorship opportunity. No deal has been materialized.”

The club did not comment on the reports about takeover interest from Saudi Arabia ahead of the minister’s denial.

The Glazers have turned United into one of the biggest money-making machines in soccer, with the club last week projecting revenue for the financial year of between US$794-million and US$813-million.

In 2017, United attached itself to Saudi’s Vision 2030 – a blueprint advanced by the Crown Prince to wean the kingdom off its reliance on oil.

The killing of Khashoggi cast a shadow over Saudi international business dealings. Khashoggi, who had written critically about the Crown Prince in The Washington Post, went missing in October.

After denying for several weeks that Khashoggi was killed in the consulate, Saudi Arabia indicted 11 people in the killing, including several officials close to the regime’s de facto leader. The kingdom denies the Crown Prince knew of the plot.

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