A Turkish prosecutor in the case against 26 Saudi nationals charged with the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi made a surprise request on Thursday that the trial be suspended in his absence and that the case be transferred to Saudi Arabia, allowing Increase the risk of possible cover-up.
The panel of judges did not make a decision on the prosecutor’s request, but said a letter would be sent to Turkey’s Justice Ministry seeking an opinion on a possible transfer of the file to Saudi judicial authorities, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported. The hearing was adjourned till April 7.
The development comes as Turkey seeks to normalize its ties with Saudi Arabia, which fell to an all-time low after the horrific October 2018 murder of Khashoggi. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Kavusoglu said in an interview on Thursday that Saudi officials were more cooperative with Turkey on judicial issues, but did not elaborate.
Arguing for the transfer, the prosecutor told the court that the Saudi Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office in a letter dated March 13 requested the transfer of Turkish proceedings to the kingdom, and the international warrants issued by Ankara against the defendants. was removed. Private DHA news agency.
The prosecutor said that because the arrest warrant could not be executed and the defense statement could not be obtained, the case in Turkey would remain inconclusive.
Amnesty International urged Turkey to pursue the trial, saying that if it is transferred to Saudi Arabia, Turkey will “deliberately and voluntarily send the case to a place where it will be covered up.”
Moving Khashoggi’s trial to Saudi Arabia would provide a diplomatic solution to a dispute that has represented widespread problems between Ankara and the kingdom since the 2011 Arab Spring.
Turkey, led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, supported Islamists in the form of rebels, while Saudi Arabia and its ally the United Arab Emirates tried to suppress such movements for fear of posing challenges to their autocratic governments. Meanwhile, Turkey sided with Qatar in a diplomatic dispute that led to a boycott of Doha by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Since President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, Gulf Arab states have set aside – but not fully resolved – the Qatar dispute. Meanwhile, Turkey under Erdogan has faced a sharp devaluation of its lira currency for refusing to raise interest rates. Bilateral trade for the kingdom and the United Arab Emirates, a major transfer point for the world economy, also collapsed.
Since early 2022, Erdogan has sought to improve those ties, including his first visit to the United Arab Emirates in nearly a decade. Saudi Arabia and the UAE, facing a grinding war in Yemen after battling the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic, and renewed tensions with Iran, also seek to resolve the outstanding dispute.
Khashoggi disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, in search of documents that would allow him to marry Turkish national Hatice Cengiz, who was waiting outside the building. He never appeared.
Turkish officials allege that the Saudi national, who was a resident of the United States, was murdered and then cut with a bone inside the consulate. His body has not been found. Prior to his assassination, Khashoggi wrote critically of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia in a Washington Post column.
Turkish officials said he was killed by a team of Saudi agents. Two former aides of the prince are involved in the trial in absentia.
Saudi officials initially offered conflicting accounts related to the murder, claiming that Khashoggi had left the consulate building unharmed. But amid mounting international pressure, he said Khashoggi’s death was a tragic accident, the meeting turned unexpectedly violent.
Turkey decided to hold the trial in the defendants’ absence after Saudi Arabia rejected Turkey’s demands for their extradition.
There was international condemnation of the killing and suspicions were cast over Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Western intelligence agencies as well as the US Congress have stated that an operation of this magnitude could not have taken place without their knowledge.
Urging Turkey to pursue the trial, Amnesty International said Ankara would engage in a cover-up if Ankara grants the Saudi request for the transfer.
Tariq Behan said, “If the prosecutor’s request is accepted, then instead of prosecuting and shedding light on the murder that took place in its territory … Turkey will knowingly and voluntarily send the case to a place where it will be covered up.” ” Amnesty’s campaign director for Turkey.
Behan said he did not want to “think about the possibility” that the prosecutor’s request could be related to improving relations between Riyadh and Ankara.
“Basic human rights… should not be made a matter of political conversation,” he said. “A murder cannot be covered up to fix ties.”
Some people were tried behind closed doors in Riyadh. A Saudi court issued a final ruling in 2020 that sentenced five middle-level officials and operatives to 20 years in prison. The court originally ordered the death penalty, but reduced the sentence after Khashoggi’s son Salah, who lives in Saudi Arabia, announced he had pardoned the defendants. Three others were sentenced to less prison terms.
On Thursday, Khashoggi’s fiancee Cengiz appeared to criticize the prosecutor’s request in a tweet in English. He wrote, “It is an exemplary situation to show the dilemma facing humanity in the modern age.” “Which of the two would we choose? Want to live like a virtuous human being or build a life keeping material interests above all kinds of values.”
He did not respond to a request for comment.