The Biden administration says that the Saudi crown prince enjoys immunity in the Khashoggi trial

The Biden administration told a US court that the status of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as the current head of government protects him from a civil lawsuit filed by his fiancée. The murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The decision comes between a political dispute between the United States and Saudi Arabia over oil production that sent 90-year diplomatic relations to breaking point this year. The Saudis angered the White House Large production parts engineering With the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies led by Russia last month, but US officials are eyeing the group’s upcoming oil production decision in early December, hoping to boost production.

Prince Mohammed has long desired immunity ratings in the United States, according to people close to him, believing he owes it as de facto leader, with most duties delegated to his father, King Salman. Without guaranteeing immunity from prosecution or lawsuits, the people said the prince has avoided traveling to the United States and has not been there since 2018.

Mr. Khashoggi, a former member of the royal family who had criticized Prince Mohammed’s policies in Washington Post columns, was killed in 2018 and his body dismembered by Saudi agents during a visit to the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul where he was looking for papers to marry Hatice Cengiz of Turkey. citizen.

The US intelligence community concluded that the crown prince likely ordered the killing. The Saudi government initially denied involvement in Khashoggi’s murder, but later admitted that government officials carried out the killing and said that the crown prince was not personally involved.

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In Thursday’s filing, the State Department said “common law principles of immunity” had informed it of the determination of Prince Mohammed’s status, but that this “does not reflect a judgment on the underlying conduct at issue in litigation.” The de facto Saudi leader was deputy prime minister at the time of the killing, but in September he was appointed prime minister, a title traditionally held by the king – currently his father, King Salman.

Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, after attending a trial in Istanbul in April.


picture:

Murat Sezer/Reuters

The court is expected to hear the case in a session next month. Dismissing Ms. Cengiz’s lawsuit would help Saudi Arabia bridge the loop that has driven a wedge between Prince Mohammed and Western allies, particularly the United States.

The decision removes the possibility of using the US court system to hold Prince Mohammed accountable for Khashoggi’s murder, an act that caused friction in relations with President Biden. While a prosecution in the United States for Khashoggi’s murder has always been unlikely, the prince wanted to remove any doubt, people close to the prince said.

when he was president

Donald Trump

President Biden expressed support for the prince after the killing, and has taken a harder line, vowing during his 2020 presidential campaign to treat Saudi Arabia as a pariah. Barely a month into office, he issued a long-awaited intelligence report on the prince’s role in the killing and punished a number of Saudi security officials without punishing the prince himself.

Mr. Biden refused to speak with Prince Mohammed during his first year in office. But in July, after a period of persistently high oil prices, the president traveled to Saudi Arabia. There, he fist-bumped the young governor before a nearly three-hour meeting in which he said he had done “some important work” and confronted the prince about the murder.

Prince Mohammed has steadily regained his international stature since then, after distancing himself from the United States or Europe since 2018 and skipping international summits last year.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman greets President Biden in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in July.


picture:

Bandar Leather/Associated Press

Mr. Khashoggi’s supporters criticized taking the case to court as treason and Ms. Cengiz said the administration’s decision was unexpected.

“We thought maybe there might be a light of justice from the USA,” she wrote on Twitter. “Today Jamal died again.”

The case was brought in 2020 jointly with Arab World Democracy Now, a US-based nonprofit founded to promote the human rights and rule of law that Mr. Khashoggi established while living in self-exile in Washington.

“It is no irony that President Biden single-handedly asserted that Mohammed bin Salman could get away with impeachment when it was President Biden who promised the American people he would do everything to hold him accountable,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of the nonprofit, using Prince Mohammed’s statement. . Initials. Not even the Trump administration has done so.

A Saudi court issued final sentences to eight lower-ranking officials for their role in the killing, overturning the death sentences after they were pardoned by Mr. Khashoggi’s eldest son. The prosecutor declared the case closed.

write to Stephen Kalin at [email protected] and Saeed Summer at [email protected]

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