Prosecutor calls for end to Khashoggi murder trial in Turkey

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — The Turkish prosecutor in the case against 26 Saudi nationals accused of murdering Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi made a surprise request Thursday that their trial in absentia be suspended and the case transferred to Saudi saudi.

The panel of judges did not rule on the prosecutor’s request but decided that a letter should be sent to the Turkish Ministry of Justice seeking its opinion on a possible transfer of the file to the Saudi judicial authorities, the agency reported. public Anadolu. The trial has been adjourned until April 7.

The private DHA news agency reported that the prosecutor told the court that in a letter dated March 13, the Saudi attorney general’s office requested that the proceedings in Turkey be transferred to the kingdom and that the international warrants issued by Ankara against the defendants be lifted. .

Arguing for the transfer, the prosecutor said that because arrest warrants cannot be executed and defense statements cannot be taken, the case would remain inconclusive in Turkey.

The development comes as Turkey tries to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia, which hit an all-time low after the grisly killing of Khashoggi. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in an interview on Thursday that Saudi authorities were more cooperative on legal issues with Turkey, but did not elaborate.

Khashoggi disappeared on October 2, 2018, after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, looking for documents that would allow him to marry Hatice Cengiz, a Turkish national who was waiting outside the building. He never emerged.

Turkish officials allege that the Saudi national who was a resident of the United States was killed and then dismembered with a bone saw inside the consulate. His body has not been found. Before his assassination, Khashoggi had criticized the crown prince of Saudi Arabia in columns for the Washington Post.

Turkish authorities said he was killed by a team of Saudi agents. Among those tried in absentia are two former collaborators of the prince.

Saudi officials initially offered conflicting accounts regarding the murder, including claims that Khashoggi left the consulate building unscathed. But amid mounting international pressure, they said Khashoggi’s death was a tragic accident, with the meeting turning unexpectedly violent.

Turkey decided to try the defendants in absentia after Saudi Arabia rejected Turkish requests for extradition.

The killing drew international condemnation and cast a cloud of suspicion over Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Western intelligence agencies, as well as the US Congress, have said an operation of this magnitude could not have taken place without his knowledge.

Amnesty International has urged Turkey to continue the trial.

“If the prosecutor’s request is granted, then instead of pursuing and bringing to light a murder that was committed on its territory … Turkey will knowingly and voluntarily send the case to a place where it will be concealed “, said Tarik Beyhan. , Amnesty’s campaign director for Turkey.

Beyhan said he didn’t want to “think about the possibility” that the prosecutor’s request was linked to improving relations between Riyadh and Ankara.

“Fundamental human rights…should not be subject to political negotiation,” he said. “A murder cannot be covered up to fix relations.”

Some of the men were tried in Riyadh behind closed doors. A Saudi court issued a final verdict in 2020 that sentenced five mid-level officials and agents to 20-year prison terms. The court initially ordered the death sentence but reduced the sentence after Khashoggi’s son Salah, who lives in Saudi Arabia, announced he had pardoned the defendants. Three others were sentenced to less severe prison terms.

On Thursday, Khashoggi’s fiancée, Cengiz, appeared to criticize the prosecutor’s request, in a tweet in English. “This is an exemplary situation to show the dilemma facing humanity in the modern age,” she wrote. “Which of the two shall we choose? Wanting to live as a virtuous human being or build a life by placing material interests above all kinds of values.

She did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sharon P. Juarez