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EXCLUSIVE: Saudi crown prince seeks to fast track trial of Khashoggi suspects

Confidential Emirati document reveals Mohammed bin Salman is concerned the journalist's murder could become a heavily debated topic during the upcoming US election
Saudi Arabia intends to use Khashoggi's heirs as leverage to bring the case to a close (MEE/Illustrated by Mohamad Elaasar)

The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman is determined to “fast track” court proceedings against the murder squad sent to kill Jamal Khashoggi, before Donald Trump’s re-election campaign starts in earnest.

Mohammed bin Salman, who is thought by the CIA and Turkish investigators to have ordered the killing of Saudi journalist Khashoggi, wants to close the chapter as soon as possible, according to a report based on Emirati intelligence.

“It was a wise step for Riyadh to move quickly to close the case and indict those responsible before the start of the American presidential election,” the document says. “Otherwise the killing could have been turned into one of the presidential debate topics.”

The report is one of a monthly series written by the Emirates Policy Centre, a think tank with close links to the Emirati government and security services.

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Entitled “Monthly Report on Saudi Arabia, Issue 24, May 2019”, the document is of limited circulation and intended for the Emirati leadership. It does not appear on the think tank’s website. A copy has been obtained by Middle East Eye.

Trump has consistently backed the Saudi crown prince, who is the kingdom’s de facto leader, in the international furore which followed Khashoggi’s killing in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year.

Last month, the US president dismissed a United Nations request for an FBI investigation into Khashoggi’s death, saying it would jeopardise Washington’s arms sales to Riyadh.

Agnes Callamard, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, released a scathing 100-page report on the Middle East Eye and Washington Post columnist's assassination, revealing that his killers had referred to him as their “sacrificial animal”.

She said the FBI should open an inquiry and “pursue criminal prosecutions within the United States”.

MEE contacted the Emirates Policy Centre for comment, with no reply by the time of publication.

Closing the case

The Emirati paper reveals that Saudi efforts to close the case are centred on attempts to get Khashoggi’s heirs to accept “blood money” or accept a financial settlement agreed between the parties involved, and thus forgo the right of revenge or “qisas”.

The Saudi authorities plan to use the kingdom’s religious authorities to close the case, the report says.

“There were signs that religious figures would provide a religious view stating that Khashoggi’s heirs had the following choices: they could either forfeit their rights with no compensation, forgo revenge, take blood money or accept a financial settlement agreed by the parties involved,” the document reads.

'They could either forfeit their rights with no compensation, forgo revenge, take blood money or accept a financial settlement'

- Emirates Policy Centre report

“These practices are sanctioned by sharia and commonly followed in the Saudi judicial process relating to killings where the parties opt to reconcile based on an amount of money.”

Salah Khashoggi, the slain journalist’s eldest son, recently denied that payments made to the family were an admission of guilt by Saudi rulers. In April, the Washington Post reported the writer’s children were given million-dollar homes and monthly payments of at least $10,000.

However, in its report the Emirates Policy Centre notes Salah Khashoggi's press release was used to deny any settlement and demand that those who committed, participated in or were associated with the crime be brought to justice.

“The press release emphasised that the financial rewards from the government were not part of a settlement, but a generous assistance from the government and a gesture of kindness to its citizens.”

The report says there were indications that Salah was instructed to issue his statement.

Legal procedures

As the kingdom and crown prince himself were under international pressure to convict those responsible, the report says political advisory committees recommended the government announce legal procedures for those accused. 

Eleven unnamed Saudis are currently on trial in Riyadh over the murder, though Saud al-Qahtani, a top aide to Mohammed bin Salman thought to have masterminded the assassination, walks free and remains in contact with the crown prince, according to multiple reports. Five of the 11 face the death penalty.

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The number of those on trial in Riyadh conflicts with the US State Department’s own list of individuals it deems responsible. In April, Washington sanctioned and issued a travel ban for 16 Saudi citizens over their alleged involvement in Khashoggi's murder.

In her report, Callamard doubted whether justice would be delivered in Riyadh.

"The trial is held behind closed doors; the identity of those charged has not been released nor is the identity of those facing death penalty," she wrote. 

"At the time of writing, at least one of those identified as responsible for the planning and organizing of the execution of Mr Khashoggi has not been charged."

Callamard warned that it was questionable whether a financial package offered to Khashoggi’s children amounts to compensation under international human rights law.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.