Saudi Arabia has been sharply criticised for undermining the American judicial process by helping its citizens residing in the US to flee the country in order to avoid facing criminal charges, including murder and violent crimes.
Details of the extent to which the Saudi embassy in Washington provides assistance to Saudis residing in the US to abscond justice were revealed in a Washington Post article yesterday in light of efforts by the Biden administration to put an end to this ongoing problem that has angered families of victims and US officials alike.
The Saudi embassy's assistance to criminals evading justice for some of the most serious crimes is said to be an open secret. The FBI concluded two years ago that Saudi government officials "almost certainly assist US-based Saudi citizens in fleeing the United States to avoid legal issues, undermining the US judicial process" according to an intelligence bulletin cited in the Post.
Assistance to alleged Saudi criminals are said to be overseen by a mid-level official within the embassy who manages a network of American criminal defence lawyers and self-described "fixers" paid to keep Saudis charged with crimes out of prison. According to an investigation by the Post, this network goes far beyond the traditional role of consular services and helped accused Saudis evade court-ordered probation and arranged for travel and flights out of the United States when Saudi nationals have absconded from justice.
Over the past few years media reporting on Saudi fugitives exposed what many in Washington consider a problem that's reached epidemic proportions. Saudi Arabia has no extradition treaty with the US which means once a perpetrator flees to the kingdom there is no opportunity of victims and families getting justice.
The trend has become more acute over the years as the Saudi student population in the United States has exploded, rising from fewer than 5,000 in 2005 to more than 80,000 a decade later, according to Homeland Security figures cited in the Oregonlive, which highlights the growing problem of Saudi fugitives in 2019. The Saudi government has sponsored most of those students under a $3 billion scholarship programme created by the late King Abdullah.
US President Joe Biden, who has sharply criticised the Saudis especially over the war in Yemen and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, has signalled that the Saudis must end this pattern of behaviour which has left pain and suffering in its wake.
Senior State Department officials are said to have made clear to their Saudi counterparts that individuals committing a crime must face proceedings in the United States and that any Saudi government interference with the integrity of the US criminal justice system is unacceptable.
US lawmakers have also called on the Biden administration not to take the Saudis at their word that they will stop their citizens from fleeing while urging him to hold the kingdom responsible.