Saudi crown prince prime suspect in Khashoggi killing, says U.N. investigator

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is a prime suspect in the case of the 2018 murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, the United Nations’ top rights investigator said on Saturday.

Circumstantial evidence in the Khashoggi case suggests that a crime of that nature could not have taken place without the contribution of Salman, Agnes Callamard told Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency.

"I think he is a prime suspect in terms of determining who ordered or who incited the killing. He is in the picture,’’ she said. 

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and prominent critic of Salman, was killed by a team of Saudi agents inside the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018.

Turkish officials maintain Khashoggi's body was dismembered at the consulate by the killers and his remains are yet to be found. 

In March, Istanbul prosecutors indicted 20 Saudi officials – including the former deputy chief of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence service, Ahmed al-Asiri, and ex-royal adviser Saud al-Qahtani – for committing premeditated murder with “monstrous intent”.

Salman denied ordering Khashoggi’s death and initially said the murder was carried out by a “rogue operation”, however the CIA experts believe the crown price gave the green light for the incident.

However, the suspects are being tried in absentia by a Turkish court, which opened the murder trial on Friday, because Riyadh has refused to extradite the men despite repeated requests by Turkey.

Callamard said on Saturday that Turkey's trial is being held in absentia because everyone knew that Saudi Arabia will not allow the defendants to face trial in Turkey.

"We must remind governments that this is somebody who has blood on his hands or who may be responsible for ordering the killing of Jamal Khashoggi,” the U.N. official said.

A Saudi court in December sentenced five people to death over the incident, however Asiri and Qahtani were dismissed from all charges due to lack of evidence, in a trial shrouded in secrecy that was widely denounced as a sham aimed at clearing bin Salman from international condemnation.

Human rights group Amnesty International had said the verdict was a “whitewash” that failed to address the Saudi authorities’ involvement or the location of Khashoggi’s remains. Ankara had said that the trial had fallen far short of "justice being served and accountability".