Italy's famed La Scala opera house has returned over £2.5m (€3m) in Saudi investments after a promising partnership with the Kingdom sparked public outcry.
Citing Saudi Arabia's human rights record, including the murder of Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October, the opera house returned the money, which was received as part of a five-year, €15m partnership between Italy and Saudi Arabia.
Northern League (Lega Nord) leader and deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini was a vocal critic of the deal, and urged the opera house to cancel the deal. Lombardy governor Attilio Fontana also demanded officials to fire La Scala artistic director Alexander Pereira, who negotiated the deal.
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But Mr. Sala has backed Mr. Pereira, stating he would keep his job.
Whist Saudi officials have yet to comment, Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the UK, vehemently opposed in October last year any claims that it had orchestrated Khashoggi's murder, slamming allegations as "outrageous" and "malicious leaks and grim rumors". Prince Khalid also denounced Turkey's accusations as "absolutely false, and baseless", adding that Turkish officials and media did not have access to the consulate.
Khashoggi went missing on 2 October after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Riyadh initially denied any knowledge of the journalist's whereabouts, but later admitted that Khashoggi had been killed in a "rogue operation", with his body being dismembered and taken out of the consulate. Saudi authorities have since charged 11 people with Khashoggi's murder, with some of them facing the death penalty.