Judge asks the Biden administration whether Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman should enjoy immunity from civil lawsuits

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The Biden administration has until August 1 to say whether it believes Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman should be immune from a civil lawsuit brought against him in the United States by Khadija Cengiz, the fiancée of Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist who was murdered in 2018.

Genghis and Democracy in the Arab World Now, a human rights organization founded by Khashoggi before his death, File a lawsuit in 2020 against the Crown Prince And dozens of defendants. The lawsuit alleges that Khashoggi was tortured, murdered, and dismembered at the direction of the crown prince, who is often referred to by his initials as Mohammed bin Salman.

The crown prince and two other defendants filed petitions to dismiss Cengiz’s suit, claiming that the court lacked both substantive jurisdiction and personal jurisdiction. The crown prince has previously denied ordering Khashoggi’s killing, and Saudi officials have blamed “rogue agents” for the journalist’s killing.

The The CIA concluded in 2018 That Muhammad ordered Khashoggi’s murder, contradicts Saudi Arabia’s insistence that the crown prince had no prior knowledge of the plot.

US District Judge John Bates said in an order issued Friday that the US government can file a statement of interest regarding, among other things, “the applicability of head of state immunity in this case.” The Biden administration could also announce that it would not make such a statement. If the United States declares its interests, Muhammad and the other defendants will have until August 16 to respond, Bates ruled.

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Mohammed’s lawyers have argued that the crown prince in the United States enjoys sovereign immunity in civil lawsuits. Mohammed’s father, King Salman, is the king of Saudi Arabia, although the crown prince is widely seen as the kingdom’s day-to-day ruler.

In a motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed last year, Mehmet’s lawyers argued that the crown prince “is immune not only from his immediate family relationship to the king, but also from his ‘high-ranking office’.” Cengiz and Down’s lawyers responded that the courts had previously rejected allegations that the ‘actual’ leadership, By virtue of being crown prince, she is granted immunity.

The Department of State usually consults other US government agencies before issuing a recommendation of immunity to the Department of Justice, whose formal request is usually binding on the federal court. Legal analysts say a decision can come as quickly as a head of state, or take months or years, depending on the circumstances and complexity of the case.

“It would be wrong in terms of law and policy for the court to grant MBS immunity, effectively ensuring impunity for this heinous crime,” Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of DAWN, said in a text message.

Federal judge’s order comes before President Biden He is scheduled to travel to Saudi Arabia later this month For the first time in his presidency, a trip that made even some Democrats uneasy and drew accusations of Biden. Volatility in the promise To make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” after Khashoggi’s murder.

On October 2, 2018, Saudi agents killed Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. What was accomplished in the aftermath? (Video: Joyce Lee, Thomas Legro, Dalton Bennett, John Parks/The Washington Post)

Saudi Embassy Promote next visit As one that would “strengthen the historical and strategic partnership between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States of America, as both countries aim to deepen and strengthen existing areas of cooperation, and lay the foundations for the future of this strategic partnership.”

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Khashoggi was Killed on October 2, 2018, after visiting the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul To obtain documents allowing him to marry Genghis. In the months leading up to that visit, he had been writing columns for The Washington Post severely critical The crown prince, who effectively rules Saudi Arabia and has carried out a brutal crackdown on rivals and opponents.

The journalist’s murder and dismemberment was first revealed by the Turkish government. The killing sparked a wave of international alienation and calls to ostracize the Saudi leadership.

a Separate attempt to pursue Khashoggi’s murderIn Turkey, it recently ended after the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ended its trial on suspicion of members of the Saudi team that killed the journalist at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul. The suspects, all in Saudi Arabia, were being tried in absentia.

Turkey’s suspension of the trial last April coincided with the Erdogan government’s attempt to restore relations with the kingdom, which had been severed after Khashoggi’s murder.

“We will look for justice in the United States,” Cengiz said at the time, referring to the Turkish decision, and her U.S. lawsuit.

Spencer S. contributed. Hsu and Nick Miroff in this report.

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