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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Saudi foreign minister: Crown Prince had absolutely no role in Khashoggi death

The statement comes shortly after Saudi's top prosecutor called for death penalty in Khashoggi murder case

Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi speaks on his cellphone at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. AP 
Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi speaks on his cellphone at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. AP 

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had "absolutely" nothing to do with the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir said on Thursday, shortly after the public prosecution called for some of the people charged in the case to be given the death penalty.

The Saudi public prosecutor recommended the death penalty for five people who ordered and committed the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.

Deputy public prosecutor Shaalan Shaalan told reporters in Riyadh that the role of the crown prince's former adviser Saud Al Qahtani was meeting with the team that was ordered to repatriate Khashoggi.

Eleven out of the 21 people held have been charged with murder, Mr Shaalan said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that the measures announced by the Saudi public prosecutor's office were "positive but insufficient", and repeated Ankara's demand that the 15-man team be tried in Turkey.

The Saudi posecutor's update on the case was followed by the US State Department announcing sanctions on Mr Al Qahtani, "his subordinate Maher Mutreb, the Saudi Counsul General in Istanbul Mohammed Alotaibi, and 14 other people members of an operations team" with a role in the killing of Khashoggi, who had lived in the US for about a year before his death.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the sanctions were imposed under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.

"Our action today is an important step in responding to Khashoggi’s killing," Mr Pompeo said in statement released by the State Department.

He said the department "will continue to seek all relevant facts, consult Congress, and work with other nations to hold accountable those involved in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi".

Mr Al Jubeir said the killing of the journalist was a legal matter and should not be politicised.

"The politicisation of the issue contributes to a fissure in the Islamic world while the kingdom seeks the unity of the Islamic world," the foreign minister said.

Mr Al Jubeir added that there were still unanswered questions in need of answers, but Ankara had refused three requests from Riyadh to provide proof of their accounts of the killing.

He said that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had "absolutely" nothing to do with the killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi.

"Absolutely, his royal highness the crown prince has nothing to do with this issue," Mr Al Jubeir told reporters in a press conference in Riyadh.

He said the kingdom was investigating and holding those responsible to account "to make sure this doesn't happen again".

"Sometimes mistakes happen ... sometimes people exceed their authority," he said.

The deputy public prosecutor said a team was formed to bring Khashoggi under the orders of Mr Al Qahtani.

Mr Shaalan said he had been banned from travelling and remains under investigation.

The case has been transferred to court while the investigation continues, he said.

Mr Shaalan said the deputy chief of the Saudi intelligence, General Ahmed Al Assiri, ordered the operation.

Mr Al Assiri had given the order to force Khashoggi to return to Saudi while the head of the negotiating team that flew to Istanbul had ordered his murder, he said.

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Mr Al Assiri was fired for ordering Khashoggi's forced return.

Khashoggi's body was dismembered and transported outside of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the deputy prosecutor added.

A member of the team that was sent to Istanbul assessed that it would be difficult to complete a repatriation and decided to kill Mr Khashoggi in the consulate, he said.

Mr Shaalan said that Riyadh has asked Ankara to share the results of its investigation and recordings of the killing.

"The prosecution is still waiting for Turkey to hand over what was asked of them," he said.

Turkey has demanded an international investigation in to the case, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said those who ordered the killing should be identified and brought to justice.

Khashoggi, a former palace insider who turned critic, was strangled and his body dismembered in Istanbul.