TURKEY (March 31, 2022)—A Turkish prosecutor has asked a court in Istanbul to halt the trial in absentia of 26 Saudi nationals over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
The prosecutor said the case should be transferred to Saudi Arabia, which has refused to extradite the defendants.
Khashoggi, a US-based Saudi journalist critical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed by a team of agents inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
The move comes as Turkey seeks to repair its relations with the kingdom.
On the same day as the prosecution filed its transfer request, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told the TV channel A Haber in an interview: “I can say that concrete steps will be taken on this issue in the coming period.”
He also highlighted what he called “better co-operation” between the Turkish and Saudi judiciaries.
Ties between the two regional powers deteriorated significantly following the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and led to an unofficial Saudi boycott of Turkish exports.
The Washington Post journalist was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October 2018. He was attempting to obtain papers he needed to marry his Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz.
A UN investigator concluded that Khashoggi was “brutally slain” inside the building by a 15-strong team of Saudi agents sent from Riyadh, and that his body was dismembered. She made that judgement after listening to purported audio recordings of conversations inside the consulate made by Turkish intelligence.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan alleged that Khashoggi was “killed in cold blood by a death squad” sent from Riyadh, and said it had “been established that his murder was premeditated”.
He also said he knew the order to kill “came from the highest levels of the Saudi government”. Mr Erdogan declined to identify anyone. But US intelligence agencies concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, had approved an operation to capture or kill Khashoggi.
The prince denied playing any role and Saudi prosecutors blamed “rogue” agents.
Turkey rejected the outcome as “scandalous” and for almost two years a court in Istanbul has been trying 26 Saudi officials in absentia on charges of premeditated murder or destroying evidence. The defendants include Saud al-Qahtani, a former senior adviser to Prince Mohammed, and Ahmad Asiri, a former deputy intelligence chief.
The Turkish prosecutor handling the case said on Thursday that it should be transferred to Saudi judicial authorities because they had promised to evaluate the accusations against the defendants.
The court said it would ask for the Turkish justice ministry’s opinion and scheduled the next hearing for 7 April.
The press advocacy group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said the request was “terrible news” and urged the justice ministry to turn it down.
“The Khashoggi file appears this time to be a victim of diplomatic rapprochement between Turkey and the [Saudi] kingdom,” RSF’s representative in Turkey, Erol Onderoglu, told AFP news agency.
Ms. Cengiz, Khashoggi’s former fiancée, tweeted: “It is an exemplary situation in terms of showing the dilemma facing humanity in the modern era. Which of the two will we choose? To want to live like a virtuous human being or to build a life by holding material interests above all kinds of values. #justiceforjamal”
Source: The Guardian