WASHINGTON — A U.S. federal court has dismissed a lawsuit against Saudi Arabia’s crown prince over the murder of a Saudi columnist who lived in Virginia, it said in a filing Tuesday. state or governmental.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of columnist Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatitse Sengiz, and named Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as the most prominent defendant. Khashoggi was killed by Saudi agents while visiting the Saudi consulate general in Istanbul to obtain documents for his planned wedding in 2018.
In September of this year, Prince Mohammed’s father, King Salman, appointed him as prime minister of Saudi Arabia. Although the king remains head of state, the move formalized his role as ruler of the kingdom.
Some US officials and analysts said the king appeared to have taken the decision to guarantee the prince immunity. King Salman made the announcement six days before his October deadline set by the court for the US government to notify Prince Mohammed whether he has immunity. Shortly after receiving his new title, the crown prince told the court that he had immunity under court precedent.
The State Department asked the court for an extension to make a legal decision, and on November 17, it submitted a statement to the Justice Department, saying that Prince Mohammed should be “immune while in office.”
The letter said the State Department had not taken a position on the lawsuit itself and reiterated Khashoggi’s “clear denunciation of the heinous murder.” Legal scholars said at the time that the ruling was consistent with precedent.
In a Tuesday filing on page 25, the court said: Bin Salman is therefore “entitled to head of state immunity…while he is in office.”
“Therefore,” the court added, “the claim against bin Salman is dismissed on the basis of the head of state’s immunity.”
The court also dismissed a case against senior Saudi officials at the time of the murders of Saud al-Qahtani and Ahmed al-Assiri, who were named as defendants in the lawsuit, saying the plaintiffs should have jurisdiction over the case. He said he didn’t prove it enough. matter.
Sara Leah Whitson, executive director of the advocacy group Democracy for the Arab World Now, which has filed the lawsuit on behalf of Sengiz, wrote on Twitter that the court’s decision was “sad news that calls for accountability.” rice field. She said the group is consulting with lawyers on next steps and that “our fight for justice continues.”
Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident who wrote a column for the Washington Post criticizing the crown prince and the kingdom’s government, was strangled and dismembered by Saudi agents. During the 2020 presidential election, President Biden vowed to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” for killings and other human rights abuses. Authorized the release of a US intelligence report that authorized the killing.
Mr. Biden has distanced himself from Saudi Arabia and criticized the country’s human rights record, but this summer he bowed to suggestions from his top national security adviser that he should try to mend relations with Crown Prince Mohammed. He reluctantly visited the kingdom in July and exchanged fists with the prince.
In October, the crown prince led the oil-producing cartel OPEC+ by announcing drastic production cuts, infuriating Mr. Biden and sparking a new rift in U.S.-Saudi relations. Biden accused the prince of being on Russia’s side for relying on soaring oil prices to support spending during the war with Ukraine.
Officials in Riyadh have denied such promises, but Biden’s top aide believed he had reached a secret agreement with Saudi officials in May to boost oil production until the end of the year. .