The US has determined that Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader – Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – has immunity from a lawsuit filed by the fiancé of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Mr Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi critic, was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.
US intelligence has said it believed Prince Mohammed ordered the killing.
But in court filings, the US State department said he has immunity due to his new role as Saudi prime minister.
Mr Khashoggi’s ex-fiancé, Hatice Cengiz, wrote on Twitter that “Jamal died again today” with the ruling.
She – along with the human rights group, Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), founded by Mr Khashoggi – had been seeking unspecified damages in the US from the crown prince for her fiancé’s murder.
The complaint accused the Saudi leader and his officials of having “kidnapped, bound, drugged and tortured, and assassinated US-resident journalist and democracy advocate, Jamal Khashoggi”.
The Secretary General of Amnesty International, Agnes Callamard, said: “Today it is immunity. It all adds up to impunity.”
Prince Mohammed was named crown prince by his father, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, in 2017. The 37-year-old was then handed the role of prime minister in September this year.He denies any role in the killing of Mr Khashoggi.
Justice Department lawyers said that as “the sitting head of a foreign government,” the crown prince “enjoys head of state immunity from the jurisdiction of US courts as a result of that office.”
“The doctrine of head of state immunity is well established in customary international law,” Justice Department lawyers said.
But the Biden administration was keen to emphasise that the ruling was not a determination of innocence.
“This is a legal determination made by the State Department under longstanding and well-established principles of customary international law,” a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said in a written statement.
“It has nothing to do with the merits of the case.”
Saudi Arabia said the former Washington Post journalist had been killed in a “rogue operation” by a team of agents sent to persuade him to return to the kingdom. —BBC