Washington, Nov 18 (EFE).- The United States government has declared that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who was recently named his country’s prime minister, should be granted immunity from a US civil lawsuit filed by the fiancee of murdered Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
Although US intelligence concluded that MBS ordered the Saudi dissident’s killing in Istanbul, President Joe Biden’s administration on Thursday asked the Justice Department to formally request that the Washington DC federal court hearing the case grant the crown prince legal immunity.
The State Department said in a letter signed by Acting Legal Adviser Richard C. Visek that international law stipulates that as a foreign head of government he qualifies while in office for immunity from the suit filed in that court by Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, and DAWN, a human rights group he co-founded.
MBS, who has repeatedly denied any prior knowledge of the plot against Khashoggi, was named prime minister in September by his elderly father, King Salman bin Abdulaziz.
The State Department’s letter, however, clarified that it “takes no view on the merits of the present suit and reiterates its unequivocal condemnation of the heinous murder of Jamal Khashoggi” at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.
A final decision on whether to grant immunity to MBS rests with the presiding judge.
An intelligence report the Biden administration released in February 2021 said Bin Salman “approved an operation in Istanbul to capture or kill” Khashoggi because he was perceived as a dissident whose activities were undermining the Saudi monarchy.
A former member of the Saudi elite who fell out of favor for criticizing MBS, Khashoggi had been living in self-imposed exile in the US and writing columns critical of the Saudi de facto leader for more than a year at the time of his visit to Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018, to obtain documents he needed to wed Cengiz.
His fiancee sounded the alarm when Khashoggi failed to reappear, and revelations by the Turkish government ultimately forced the Kingdom to admit that Khashoggi was murdered and his body cut up inside the consulate.
No senior official was among the eight people Saudi Arabia convicted for Khashoggi’s murder, and despite the US intelligence assessment the oil-rich nation has continued to insist that the crown prince was not involved.
While campaigning for president, Biden labeled the Saudi government a “pariah” for Khashoggi’s killing.
But the US head of state later came under criticism for a meeting he held with MBS during a visit this summer to Saudi Arabia, where he greeted the crown prince with a fist bump.
Cengiz slammed the US government’s backing for immunity for MBS.
“#Biden saved the murderer by granting immunity. He saved the criminal and got involved in the crime himself. Let’s see who will save you in the hereafter? @POTUS,” she wrote on Twitter. EFE