ISTANBUL: A Turkish court trying 26 Saudi suspects in absentia for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi refused to admit a US report blaming the kingdom’s crown prince for the killing.
An Istanbul court is trying two close former aides of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in a case that has gained added attention after the release last week of the declassified US assessment of the events.
Khashoggi was an insider-turned-critic who wrote for The Washington Post when he was killed and dismembered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul after going there to get documents for his wedding to Turkish fiancee Hatice Cengiz.
Cengiz and a German diplomat attended the third hearing in the trial. Turkish prosecutors allege that former Saudi deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Assiri and the royal court’s ex-media czar Saud al-Qahtani led the operation and gave orders to a Saudi hit squad.
The declassified US report said Washington had grounds to conclude that Prince Mohammed “approved” the operations since it fits a pattern of him “using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad”.
Cengiz asked the Istanbul court to add the US report to the evidence case file. The presiding judge rejected her petition on the grounds that it “will bring nothing” to the trial. The judge did allow Cengiz to file a new request with prosecutors spearheading the Turkish government’s case.
The US report “directly attributes responsibility to the crown prince. Therefore, we want this to be taken into account by the court,” Cengiz told reporters after the hearing.
The hearing on Thursday took witness testimony from two Turkish employees of the Saudi consulate — a driver and a security guard.
Driver Edip Yilmaz said he and his colleagues were locked in a room by the consulate’s security team and not allowed to leave until further notice on the day of Khashoggi’s murder. “It gave me the impression that something abnormal was going on,” the driver told the court.
Khashoggi’s death and subsequent disappearance of his body has gravely tarnished Mohammed Bin Salman’s image and plunged Riyadh into a diplomatic crisis.
The kingdom said Khashoggi was killed in an unauthorised operation. Five suspects who were sentenced to death in an opaque trial in Riyadh last year later had their sentences commuted to 20 years in jail.
Relations between Ankara and Riyadh deteriorated sharply in the immediate aftermath of Khashoggi’s death. Turkey has been taking steps to mend its relations with Saudi Arabia as it looks for regional allies and has refrained from commenting on the declassified US report.