Saudis’ U-turn on Khashoggi


Saudis’ U-turn on Khashoggi

Kingdom finally admits journalist’s murder was ‘premeditated’

Red-handed: A protester dressed as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman during a vigil for Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul. Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty
Red-handed: A protester dressed as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman during a vigil for Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul. Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty

Saudi Arabia has changed its explanation of Jamal Khashoggi’s death for a third time to admit that the journalist’s murder was “premeditated” by Saudi operatives.

Officials initially claimed that Mr Khashoggi had walked out of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul unharmed on October 2.

Later, they said the 59-year-old ‘Washington Post’ columnist had been killed accidentally in a “fist fight” with a team of 15 Saudi agents.

Yesterday, Saudi Arabia’s attorney general said he had received new information from Turkish investigators which showed that “the suspects in the incident had committed their act with a premeditated intention”.

One detail has remained consistent across all three versions – an insistence that Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, was not responsible for the killing.

The latest Saudi version of events came hours after it was reported that Gina Haspel, the director of the CIA, had listened to a Turkish audio tape which allegedly shows that Mr Khashoggi was tortured before being killed.

Turkish officials have long said that the tape disproves Saudi claims that the agents did not mean to kill Mr Khashoggi.

Turkey has not made the tape public and the CIA has not officially confirmed that Ms Haspel has heard it.

However, if the tapes are as gruesome as described, it will make it more difficult for the US to avoid reaching a public conclusion about what happened and who is responsible.

Three days ago, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, said that the killing was “planned” and rejected the Saudi explanation of an accidental death during a fist fight.

“Intelligence and security institutions have evidence showing the murder was certainly planned,” Mr Erdogan said during a speech to his parliament.

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Riyadh’s new story closes the gap between Turkey and Saudi Arabia’s narratives of what happened, but leaves several issues unresolved.

Mr Erdogan said he did not believe that “rogue” agents were responsible for the killing and said “those who gave the orders” must be held accountable.

He did not, however, directly accuse the 33-year-old crown prince of involvement, as several leading US senators have.

The White House is attempting to tread a delicate line between being seen to take action on Mr Khashoggi’s death without upsetting US ties with Saudi Arabia.

Despite international condemnation and widespread boycott of its ‘Davos in the Desert’ investment conference, Saudi Arabia said it signed $56bn worth of deals this week and expected the United States to remain a key business partner.

More than two dozen top officials and executives from the United States and Europe, including US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and chief executives of big banks, boycotted the investment conference.

There was concern that, temporarily at least, commercial ties with the West could be damaged as the blow to Riyadh’s reputation and the risk of economic sanctions over the Khashoggi affair made it harder to enter new deals.

Still, the three-day Future Investment Initiative conference drew hundreds of businessmen and government officials from around the world to a palatial venue in Riyadh, aiming to attract foreign capital to support Saudi economic reforms.

“There were more than 25 deals signed worth $56bn,” Saudi energy minister Khalid Al-Falih told state television yesterday, adding that US companies accounted for most of those contracts.

He added: “The US will remain a key part of the Saudi economy because the interests that tie us are bigger than what is being weakened by the failed boycotting campaign of the conference.” (© Daily Telegraph London)

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