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'Khashoggi assassins used jets linked to Saudi Crown Prince'

IANS | February 26, 2021 12:55 PM

NEW DELHI: US President Joe Biden spoke to King Salman of Saudi Arabia over the phone hours ahead of a new report was set to be made public in the sensational killing of acclaimed journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

Recently filed court documents have mentioned that the two private jets used by the alleged Saudi Arabian assassination squad that killed and dismembered journalist Jamal Khashoggi were owned by a firm that was seized by the Kingdom's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, media reports said.

The documents are labelled "Top Secret" and signed by a Saudi Minister who relayed the orders of the Crown Prince, the young de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia.

"According to the instruction of His Highness the Crown Prince, " the Minister wrote according to a translation, "immediately approve the completion of the necessary procedures for this."

The filing lays out how ownership of Sky Prime Aviation was ordered to be transferred into the country's $400 billion sovereign wealth fund in late 2017. The company's planes were later used in the October 2018 killing of Khashoggi, CNN reported.

The Kingdom's sovereign wealth fund, known as the Public Investment Fund, is controlled by the Saudi crown and is chaired by the crown prince, who is known as MBS. The documents establishing the link between the planes and the prince were filed by a group of Saudi-state owned companies as part of an embezzlement suit they opened last month in Canada against a former top Saudi intelligence official, Saad Aljabri.

The embezzlement accusations against Aljabri came after a lawsuit he filed last year in Washington, DC, District Court against MBS. Aljabri has accused the crown prince of sending a hit team to kill him in Canada just days after Khashoggi was murdered.

MBS was served a summons via WhatsApp, and in December, a lawyer for the prince asked the court to dismiss the case.

Evidence that ownership of the fleet of private planes had been moved into Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund has not been previously reported and provides another link between Khashoggi's death and MBS.

In October 2018, not long after Khashoggi's murder, the Wall Street Journal, citing people familiar with the matter, reported that the Gulfstream jets used by the killers belonged to a company controlled by MBS.

"He would have been tracking (the company) and would've been aware of how it was used, " Dan Hoffman, the former director of the CIA's Middle East Division, said of the powerful crown prince. "And it's just more potential evidence that he was in the know on this. Which has always been the contention. This is just more evidence of that."

The US intelligence community was set to release a long-awaited report with new public details about those behind the death of Khashoggi on Thursday.

Not long after the Saudi journalist was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the CIA assessed with high confidence that MBS had personally ordered the killing, but intelligence officials never spoke publicly or presented evidence. A United Nations investigator found in June 2019 it was "inconceivable" that MBS wasn't aware of the operation.

Saudi officials in Washington and Riyadh did not immediately respond to the new revelations. MBS has denied that he ordered Khashoggi's murder but said that he bears responsibility. Eight suspects were given prison sentences in what the UN investigator called a "parody of justice."

Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden had a telephonic conversation with King Salman of Saudi Arabia as he seeks to put relations with America's old ally on a new footing, the BBC reported.

He "affirmed the importance" the US "places on universal human rights and the rule of law", the White House says.

Biden made the call after reading a forthcoming US report into the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The report, due to be released shortly, is expected to implicate the king's son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Biden's predecessor, Donald Trump, pursued closer ties with Saudi Arabia.

On October 2 2018, Jamal Khashoggi, the US-based journalist and critic of Saudi Arabia's government, walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he was murdered. In the months that followed, conflicting narratives emerged over how he died, what happened to his remains, and who was responsible.

Saudi officials said the journalist was killed in a "rogue operation" by a team of agents sent to persuade him to return to the kingdom, while Turkish officials said the agents acted on orders from the highest levels of the Saudi government, the BBC had reported.

Khashoggi, 59, went to the consulate in order to obtain papers allowing him to marry his Turkish fiancee. He had allegedly received assurances from the crown prince's brother, Prince Khalid bin Salman, who was ambassador to the US at the time, that it would be safe to visit the consulate. Prince Khalid has denied any communication with the journalist.

According to Saudi prosecutors, Khashoggi was forcibly restrained after a struggle and injected with a large amount of a drug, resulting in an overdose that led to his death. His body was then dismembered and handed over to a local "collaborator" outside the consulate, prosecutors said. The remains were never found.

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