A Turkish prosecutor in the case against 26 Saudi nationals accused of killing journalist Jamal Khashoggi has asked an Istanbul court to close the file and transfer it to the Gulf state – a move that may help Ankara improve its relationship with Riyadh.
Khashoggi, a columnist with the Washington Post who was critical of Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, was last seen entering Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul in 2018. His remains were never found.
Both US and Turkish intelligence officials have said that Saudi Arabia’s day-to-day ruler approved the operation to capture or kill the Saudi journalist by government agents. Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said “the highest levels of the Saudi government” ordered the murder. Turkish officials said Khashoggi’s body was dismembered and dissolved in acid. Saudi Arabia has said that rogue agents were responsible for the killing.
On Thursday, the prosecutor overseeing the legal proceedings against the Saudi nationals in absentia asked the Istanbul court to conclude the case in Turkey and transfer the file to the Gulf kingdom, Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancé who was in the courtroom, said in a tweet. The prosecutor also requested international arrest warrants for the suspects be dropped, according to media reports. The court said it would seek an opinion on the matter from the justice ministry and scheduled the next hearing for April 7.
In recent months, Erdogan has reached out to Saudi Arabia as he seeks to end the rupture between the two Middle Eastern powers that have vied for influence in the region. The diplomatic overture is part of Erdogan’s broader effort to repair relations with regional rivals from Greece to Egypt to Israel and soften an assertive foreign policy that has isolated Turkey and made its crisis-hit economy even more vulnerable.
Speaking earlier this year, one person familiar with the discussions between Ankara and Riyadh said that Saudi Arabia’s primary condition for a thaw in relations was that Turkey should “close the Khashoggi file once and for all”.
Turkey, meanwhile, wants Riyadh to lift an unofficial embargo that has prevented both local and international manufacturers that produce in Turkey from exporting their goods to Saudi Arabia.
Khashoggi’s brutal killing sullied Prince Mohammed’s reputation as a reformer and provoked outrage around the world. The kingdom has since tried to rehabilitate its image.
A Saudi court in September 2020 sentenced eight unidentified people to seven to 20 years in prison for the murder in a trial that the United Nations said lacked transparency and fairness.
Western diplomats have said they believe the men are not in jail but that their movements are restricted. Two senior aides suspected of involvement in Khashoggi’s killing, Prince Mohammed’s aide Saud al-Qahtani and deputy intelligence chief Ahmed Asiri, were cleared of wrongdoing.
Additional reporting by Laura Pitel in Ankara and Samer Al-Atrush in Riyadh