A Turkish court trying 26 Saudi nationals in absentia for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi has refused to admit as evidence a recent US intelligence report implicating the kingdom’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, despite a request from the fiancee. from the journalist, Hatice Cengiz.
The declassified US report released last Friday said Washington believed Prince Mohammed approved the operation to “catch or kill” Khashoggi.
At the third session of the Istanbul trial on Thursday, Cengiz’s request to add the report to the evidence file was rejected on the grounds that it would “contribute nothing” to the trial. Instead, the judge allowed him to submit a new application to the prosecutors leading the Turkish government’s case.
Khashoggi went into exile of his own free will in 2017, moved to the United States and became a columnist for the Washington Post. While visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018 to collect the paperwork for his marriage to Cengiz, a Turkish national, he was sedated, killed and dismembered by a team of 15 Saudi agents. His remains have never been found.
After a series of shifting explanations, Riyadh finally admitted that the 59-year-old had been killed in a “rogue operation” but has strenuously denied that the heir to the throne was involved.
Turkish prosecutors say Saudi deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Assiri and royal court media chief Saud al-Qahtani planned the mission.
The trial is largely a symbolic exercise, although Cengiz, Khashoggi’s friends and the UN special rapporteur who investigated his death see it as an “important formalized step” in their quest for justice.
An earlier closed-door trial in Riyadh sentenced five unidentified people to death for Khashoggi’s murder, but the defendants’ sentences were commuted after the victim’s family formally pardoned them.
On Thursday, the Çağlayan court complex heard Edip Yilmaz, a former driver employed at the consulate, testify that the building’s security team locked him and other colleagues in a room on the basement floor on the day of the murder. .
“Something suspicious was obviously going on,” the driver said, although he said he did not see Khashoggi or any of the Saudi nationals sent to intercept him.
At the first hearing in July last year, another consulate worker testified that he had been asked by Saudi visitors how to operate a large tandoor furnace at the facility, which is now the focus of efforts by Turkish investigators to determine what happened to the journalist. it remains.
Ayman Noor, an Egyptian political dissident and close friend of the victim, told the court in November that he received a phone call from Khashoggi in which the journalist said he had been threatened by people close to the crown prince, and expressed fear for him and the safety of your family.
The next hearing is scheduled for July 8.
Turkey’s persecution of Saudi defendants is widely viewed as hypocritical in a country that routinely locks up dissidents and has emptied its own judicial system, but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has used Khashoggi’s assassination to score points. politicians about their regional rivals in Saudi Arabia.
Ankara’s decision not to officially comment on the declassified US report, however, and the court’s decision on Thursday to reject it, has been interpreted by many as the latest in a series of signs that Turkey may be trying to make amends. the deteriorating relations with Riyadh.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism