Saudi prince’s new role gives him immunity in Khashoggi case, lawyer says

A LAWYER for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman asked a judge to dismiss a case accusing him of ordering the killing of columnist and government critic Jamal Khashoggi, arguing that his new role as prime minister grants him legal immunity.

A Sept. 27 order naming Prince Mohammed prime minister “leaves no doubt that the Crown Prince is entitled to status-based immunity,” Prince Mohammed’s lawyer Michael Kellogg said in a filing Monday in District of Columbia federal court. Kellogg said the court “should dismiss Plaintiffs’ claims against the Crown Prince for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.”

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz appointed his son, the 37-year-old crown prince, as leader of the kingdom’s government on Sept. 27, formalizing his status as leader of the government. The crown prince, widely known by the initials MBS, already oversees many of the country’s major portfolios, and no reason was given for the move.

But it occurred amid legal wrangling in the Khashoggi case over whether the crown prince ought to have immunity in the case. In July, the court had asked the US government to weigh in on whether immunity conferred to heads of state applied in the case.

After getting one extension, the government was supposed to have submitted that response by Monday. But on Sept. 30, the US asked for an additional 45 days due to “recent factual developments” including the crown prince’s appointment as prime minister.

Prince Mohammed and 20 other Saudis were named in the complaint, filed in October 2020. The suit was brought on behalf of Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, and Democracy for the Arab World Now, or DAWN, an advocacy organization founded by Khashoggi before his death.

Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post, was killed and dismembered by Saudi agents at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in 2018, sparking an international outcry and straining Saudi Arabia’s close relationship with the U.S. Prince Mohammed has denied any involvement in the killing, while accepting “full responsibility” for it as the country’s de facto leader. A US intelligence assessment concluded Prince Mohammed had likely approved an operation to capture or kill Khashoggi.

Cengiz and DAWN are suing under the Torture Victim Protection Act and the Alien Tort Statute, which give the U.S. court system jurisdiction over lawsuits alleging certain types of offenses in other countries. The plaintiffs claim that Prince Mohammed and the other defendants were troubled when they learned of Khashoggi’s plans to establish DAWN and hatched a plan to lure him to Turkey to silence him.

In a separate ruling on Sept. 30, a US District Court judge dismissed a case filed by former Saudi intelligence official Saad Aljabri alleging that the crown prince deployed operatives in the U.S. to track him down and then sent a team to murder him, weeks after Khashoggi was killed.

In his opinion, District Judge Timothy Kelly ruled that his court had no jurisdiction, saying that the crown prince’s connections to the US in the case “do not satisfy due process.” – BLOOMBERG