Lawyers for Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, have told a court in the United States that his recent appointment as Prime Minister guarantees him immunity from prosecution over the assassination of journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, confirming predictions that the Crown Prince took up his new position for exactly that reason.
The lawyers made that statement in a petition yesterday requesting a federal district court in Washington to dismiss the case against bin Salman, which was launched following a lawsuit in 2020 over the killing of Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
With bin Salman’s new role as the Kingdom’s Prime Minister, which his father, King Salman, granted him last week through a Royal Order, he is now reportedly immune to prosecution by the US and other nations. “The Royal Order leaves no doubt that the Crown Prince is entitled to status-based immunity,” the lawyers said in their petition.
That reported immunity confirms what some analysts predicted was the purpose of the decision, as the Crown Prince’s appointment to the role of Prime Minister – he was also the Kingdom’s Defence Minister and First Deputy Prime Minister at the time – initially perplexed many.
Following Khashoggi’s assassination, months of investigation by Turkish and US intelligence discovered that the operation was seemingly commanded by Mohammed bin Salman, his intelligence chiefs and his personal hit squad.
The Kingdom has constantly denied official involvement in the killing and claimed that the agents went rogue and acted independently, sentencing eight of them to prison last year in what the UN and human rights organisations labelled a sham trial which failed to prosecute the senior perpetrators.
After Turkiye dropped its own legal case on the matter this year and handed it over to Saudi Arabia, the US lawsuit remains the only legal case left to challenge the Crown Prince’s involvement in the assassination. It was filed jointly by Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, and the advocacy group, Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) in 2020, and successfully made it to court last year.
Following MBS’s appointment as Prime Minister, the US court asked the US Department of Justice to express its view on the Crown Prince’s immunity, with a deadline for a response set for 3 October. On Friday, the Department sought a 45-day extension to prepare its response “in light of these changed circumstances”, prompting US District Judge, John D. Bates, to grant an extension. It would, however, be the only extension allowed by the court.