Golf Cash Grab Enrages Dad Whose Teen Was Killed by Saudi

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/Getty/Courtesy Seth Smart
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/Getty/Courtesy Seth Smart

PORTLAND, Oregon—An upcoming golf tournament backed by Saudi Arabian cash and set to tee off Thursday at an Oregon golf course has roiled local politicians, golfers, and the general public.

But the pain of the nascent spectacle is unique for the family of 15-year-old Fallon Smart.

In August 2016, the high-school student was crossing the street at an intersection in a popular area of southeast Portland when, police say, she was fatally struck by a driver, Abdulrahman Sameer Noorah. The Saudi national, then 21 years old, was in a gold Lexus going nearly 60 miles per hour, according to police records. Two weeks before facing trial on charges including manslaughter and reckless driving, Noorah was last seen getting into a black SUV before vanishing from the U.S. and eventually re-emerging in Saudi Arabia, according to The Oregonian.

His severed-off ankle monitor was found in a gravel yard, the newspaper reported.

“There’s no sense of closure, no sense of justice. These kinds of foundations that you believe and have faith in as an American—they just go out of the window,” Fallon’s father, Seth Smart, told The Daily Beast this week. “It’s definitely pretty depressing to see and hear there’s not a lot of will for people to give a shit about justice.”

The LIV Golf Invitation Series, funded by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, is offering staggering amounts of money to its top players in a bid to lure them from the PGA Tour. The eight-event series will see $255 million in prize money, with each event carrying a total purse of $25 million, according to LIV Golf Investments, making it the richest tournament in golfing history.

Inside the Heated Battle Between Saudi Arabia’s LIV Golf and America’s PGA Tour

Still, Smart said he hopes pro golfers will reconsider their participation. “I would love to see these big-name athletes not just taking the money, but thinking about their country. If you’re a golfer in the United States, you didn’t become a professional golfer in a bubble.”

Saudi Arabia has been criticized for its attempt at “sportswashing” the kingdom’s lengthy record of human rights abuses, most notably the gruesome assassination of the Saudi-American journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018. In addition to golf, the kingdom has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in eSports, motor racing, and soccer. LIV Golf Investments did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Several members of the Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, where the tournament is being hosted on its first stop in the U.S., have quit the club in protest, according to a report by Willamette Week. In North Plains, the tiny city on the outskirts of the Portland Metro Area that’s home to Pumpkin Ridge, law enforcement are bracing for potential protests, the sheriff’s office said in a statement.

North Plains Mayor Teri Lenahan, along with 11 other mayors from surrounding areas, wrote a letter to Escalante Golf, which owns the golf club, opposing the tournament. They cited Khashoggi’s murder, the kingdom’s public execution record, and Fallon’s killer escaping justice. Escalante Golf did not return a request for comment for this story.

“Not only does the presence of this event threaten the safety of our community, it also puts pressure on” local law enforcement, the letter reads. “We oppose this event because it is being sponsored by a repressive government whose human rights abuses are documented. We refuse to support these abuses by complicitly allowing the Saudi-backed organization to play in our backyard.”

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) has similarly decried the tournament, pointing to Fallon’s death and Saudi Arabia’s record of helping its citizens avoid facing charges in the U.S. “It’s wrong to be silent when Saudi Arabia tries to cleanse blood-stained hands, in the fight for Oregonians to get justice,” he told the Associated Press. “Fallon Smart was killed very close to our house in Southeast Portland, and the person charged with the crime, a hit-and-run death, was, based on all the evidence, whisked out of the country by the Saudis before he stood for trial.”

Prior to his disappearance, Abdulrahman Sameer Noorah had been released on bail, was wearing a tracking device, and had no passport. But federal investigators told The Oregonian they believed the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia got him out on a private plane using a new passport, likely under a different name.

Saudi embassy officials did not respond to requests for comment, but in a statement in 2019 to local media, the government denied actively helping its citizens escape trial. Still, an investigation that same year by The Oregonian showed 25 cases of Saudi students who were studying in the U.S. facing felony charges and then vanishing. The newspaper found seven students, in Oregon alone, who fled while facing charges including rape, child sex abuse, and assault.

“All you have to do is have some money and you can get out of jail and live your life normally, while our lives are devastated. They’ll never be the same,” Smart said of losing Fallon.

Smart described his lost daughter as a bright, cheery girl who loved animals, drawing, and singing in a queer youth choir. He said he still regularly has to soothe his 11-year-son’s tears from missing his sister.

“It’s hard, because it’s so painful, but you also don’t want to forget.”

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